The 1954 Topps Baseball Card Set

For real collectors of vintage baseball cards, being able to open an album and look through the collectibles is the real fun. To enjoy your collection, putting the cards in protective pages gives you the best of both worlds…with the pleasure of viewing the cards while also maintaining the condition. Depending on the era (card sizes changed slightly over the years), these pages had either eight (8) or nine (9) slots and every page has stories to tell.

One of the crown jewels of my personal collection is the 1954 Topps set, which consists of 250 cards that include a large team logo, a facsimile autograph of the player and two pictures…a bright color photo with a smaller likeness of the player in an action pose. If you were to visit the “Duck Pond”, a few minutes looking through the binder that holds this set would bring back baseball memories of players you might have seen…or just heard about from your Dad or Grandfather. It is one of the most beautiful sets ever produced and was the third entry for Topps in its legacy of modern baseball cards. For purposes of valuation, we’ll assume a graded condition of “EX” (5) which is about the average for my set.

Topps was embroiled with the Bowman Card Company over contract licensing of players during this time and it had consequences with regard to this historic set. On the negative side, Topps no longer had the rights to produce a Mickey Mantle card and he is conspicuous by his absence. And Stan Musial, another great of the time, was found only in Bowman issues. The flip side is that, for the first time, Ted Williams was no longer under exclusive contract to Bowman and Topps jumped on the opportunity. His iconic status in the game is evident, as Topps decided to have him be on the first (#1) and last (#250) card in the set…the only time a player has had this honor. His stat line on the back of the card is astonishing…after returning from his military service in Korea at the end of the ’53 season, he played in only 37 games and hit .407! These cards are valued at $300 each.

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The number of Hall of Fame players in the set is amazing…

> #3 Monte Irvin, Giants OF ($30) – One of the many outstanding Negro league players to enter the Majors in the mid-50’s, he hit .329 in ’53

> #10 Jackie Robinson, Dodgers OF ($275) – The player who changed the face of the game in 1947

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> #17 Phil Rizzuto, Yankees SS ($45) – The “Scooter” followed his career with decades in the broadcast booth…including saying “Holy Cow” when Roger Maris hit #61

> #20 Warren Spahn, Braves P ($50) – The most Wins of any LH Pitcher in history

> #30 Eddie Mathews, Braves 3B ($50) – ’54 was also the year Sports Illustrated magazine debuted and Eddie was on the first cover

> #32 Duke Snider, Dodgers OF ($60) – The “Duke of Flatbush” had 42 HR’s, 126 RBI’s and a .336 BA in ’53

> #36 Hoyt Wilhelm, Giants P ($30) – Possibly the greatest Knuckleball Pitcher of all time, he led the NL in appearances in both ’52 & ’53

> #37 Whitey Ford, Yankees P ($70) – Was the 1950 AL Rookie of the Year before going into the service…returned in ’53 to post a record of 18-6

> #45 Richie Ashburn, Phillies OF ($40) – The 1948 NL Rookie of the Year led the NL with 205 hits in ’53

> #50 Yogi Berra, Yankees C ($90) – Known for his quotes and commercials, let’s not forget that he was a 3-time AL MVP…”It’s Deja Vu all over again”

> #70 Larry Doby, Indians OF ($35) – One of the great Negro League stars, he followed Jackie Robinson to the majors in ’47 and broke the color barrier in the American League

> #90 Willie Mays, Giants OF ($290) – Arguably the greatest all-around player in history, the “Say Hey Kid” made the most famous catch in baseball history in the ’54 World Series

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In addition to these legends, four other Hall of Famers had their “Rookie Card” in this set…

> #94 Ernie Banks, Cubs SS ($1,200) – “Mr. Cub”, his career was just getting started in ’54…512 Home Runs and two MVP’s later, he is one of the most popular players of the era…”Let’s play two”

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> #128 Hank Aaron, Braves OF ($3,300) – The first card of “Hammerin’ Hank” and easily the most valuable card in the set…755 Home Runs later, he retired after the 1976 season

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> #132 Tom Lasorda, Dodgers P ($75) – The first (and last) baseball card of him as a player…his story is that he was sent to the Minor Leagues to make room for Sandy Koufax on the roster

> #201 Al Kaline, Tigers OF ($400) – He was only 18 years old when he debuted in ’53 (Trout-Like) and had 3,007 lifetime hits

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In a future blog, we’ll re-visit the ’54 set and look at other players…famous, infamous and unusual.

Baseball Card Collecting : 2021

How old were you when you opened your first pack of baseball cards? For me, it was probably about the age of seven when Topps baseball cards were a nickel…and came with a stick of bubblegum! For boys of my generation, the beautiful fragrance of that gum is something that has stayed with us over the years and would be recognizable even if we were blindfolded.

The wonderful magic of collecting is that the thrill of opening those packs to see if we got Ted Williams or Mickey Mantle is not any different today when collectors look for Mike Trout or Mookie Betts to appear from beneath the wrapper. Of course, the packs are no longer a nickel (and there is no gum) but for a baseball fan, the thrill remains the same.

Card collecting is over 100 years old and the hobby has evolved into a complex and ever-changing marketplace. From the tobacco cards of the early 20th century to the sporadic issues of the Depression era to the post-war cards from companies like Bowman & Leaf, it wasn’t until almost 70 years ago that the Topps Company started the real boom era of sports card collecting. While they issued a couple of playing card style sets in 1951, the 1952 set marked the true beginning of baseball cards as we know them today with over 400 numbered cards that included statistics and player bios. Bowman also issued card sets during this time, but Topps bought them out in 1956 and became the exclusive distributor of major league cards for a period that lasted through 1980.

A court decision in 1980 paved the way for new companies to enter the market and starting in ’81, Donruss & Fleer began to distribute baseball cards and more competitors (like Upper Deck) joined the market during the 1980’s. In the 80’s & 90’s, this highly competitive industry created their own problems by adding too many products and brands, while also over-producing the products they made. Collectors tended to become “investors” (a classic mistake), hoping that cards would increase in value as the players performance improved, but the glut of cards on the market created just the opposite effect. Even today, when I look at collections that people have interest in selling, many of the cards are “bulk junk” from that era.

Out of necessity, the card manufacturers began re-inventing their products in the late 90’s with the advent of higher-priced “premium” items that included autographed cards as well as memorabilia cards (pieces of uniform or bat) and limited edition issues. Today, we have come full circle, with MLB limiting the licenses they issue and Topps once again being the major producer of cards. For fans and collectors, the hobby is still great fun and continues to bring enjoyment to young and old alike.

Interestingly, the hobby has been booming during the time of the pandemic. Could it be that all those people stuck at home spent time finding their cards in closets, garages or storage units? Or did they just miss sports in general and found collectibles to be an outlet? When all the major sports were suspended and ESPN broadcast the 10-part documentary about the Chicago Bulls (“The Last Dance”), the interest in Michael Jordan cards went through the roof.  Then in August, the sale of a rare Trout card for nearly $4 Million got everyone’s attention. Now that record price has been demolished as a “Mint” condition 1952 Mickey Mantle card topped $5 Million just last month. While these are certainly exceptions to the rule, even on the eBay platform (where you’ll find my store at id:rotisserieduck), they’ve reported that the trading card category expanded by 142% in 2020.

One of the keys to being a card collector is determining your priorities. Whether you’re a fan of a certain player or team or just enjoy owning a part of the history of the game, be careful to understand the difference between being a collector, an investor or a speculator. If you’re strictly a collector, then fluctuating values are of no consequence to you because you’re buying the item to be part of your collection. If you’re an investor, then future values are also part of your equation for buying cards. The really good news is that you can be a collector and an investor if you concentrate on vintage (pre-1980) cards. With a limited supply and condition differences, a good collection is also a good investment.

Baseball card speculators have been around since the early 80’s and here’s a case study. Recently, a 2019 Bowman Chrome Rookie Card of Wander Franco sold on eBay for about $50. Who is Wander Franco? He’s the #1 prospect in baseball (Tampa Bay Rays) but he’s never had a major league at-bat. For that same $50, you could purchase a ’56 Topps Duke Snider card…or a ’61 Topps Sandy Koufax card…or a ’67 Topps Roberto Clemente card (all in mid-range condition). Would you rather have a Hall of Fame player in your collection or a prospect that might turn into a suspect?

Every Ballplayer is an All-Time Great

It has been a privilege over the last 16 months to curate an enormous sports autograph collection for the estate of a friend. It has been a labor-intensive project due primarily to the fact these signatures were from 1950-75 and had to be authenticated by a 3rd party company before being offered for sale.

The nice folks who purchased these items from my eBay store were thrilled with their acquisitions. Think how a baseball fan feels when adding Ty Cobb, Cy Young, Home Run Baker or Roberto Clemente to their collection. The project has now entered the home stretch as the remaining autographs will be sold in bulk to a company that specializes in memorabilia. It no longer makes sense for my client to pay $20 (or more) for authentication if the autograph won’t bring a decent return. Numbering over 1,000, these signatures are from players who aren’t famous or particularly popular.

By the time you read this, the deal may be completed but as I organized the collection one last time, it occurred to me that not being famous or popular shouldn’t define these ballplayers. After all, everyone who gets to the major leagues is a great player. They were probably the best player on their High School team and might even be legendary in their own home town. In addition, fans have a way of attaching themselves to certain players that you may not know. A golfing buddy of mine is a Tigers fan and his favorite ballplayer is Chico Fernandez, the Bengals SS of the early 60’s. Another friend is a Red Sox fan who loves Dalton Jones and his lifetime Batting Average of .235. In the 50’s, my best friend would trade his Mickey Mantle cards for ones of Ted Kluszewski.

So, as a small tribute to ballplayers great and not-so-great, here are a few signatures that were pulled at random…

  • Cecil Upshaw – The Braves Closer in the late 60’s, he had 27 Saves in ’69 and a lifetime ERA of 3.13.
  • “Sad” Sam Jones – An intimidating Pitcher who won over 100 games in his career. Has the unique stat of leading the NL in losses (14-20 for the Cubs in ’55) and wins (21-15 for the Giants in ’59).
  • Curt Motton – This OF played parts of eight seasons in the 60’s & 70’s, mostly with the Orioles…his lifetime BA was .213.
  • Don Nottebart – Pitched in the 60’s and was 11-8 with a 3.17 ERA for the Houston Colt 45’s in ’63.
  • Howie Schultz – A 1B for the Dodgers in the early 40’s, he had 83 RBI’s for the “Bums” in ’44…at 6’6’”, his nickname was “Stretch”.
  • Greg Minton – The Giants Closer of the early 80’s, he made the All-Star team in ’82 when he had 30 Saves.
  • Steve Swisher – A NL Catcher for nine seasons, he made the All-Star team in ’76 while with the Cubs…he’s Nick Swisher’s Dad.
  • Elliott Maddox – Roamed the OF for multiple teams in his 11-year career (1970-80)…had more lifetime BB’s than K’s.
  • Charlie Manuel – A beloved baseball “lifer”, he played in the 60’s & 70’s but was best known as the Manager of the Phillies from 2005-2013.
  • Willie Randolph – The slick 2B of the 60’s & 70’s Yankees, he accumulated over 2,200 hits and made six All-Star teams.
  • Pepe Mangual – Patrolled the outfield for the Expos in the 70’s and swiped 33 bases in 1975.
  • George Mitterwald – A big league Catcher for 11 years, he played for the Twins & Cubs in the 60’s & 70’s.
  • Dick Ruthven – Pitched for 14 years in the 70’s & 80’s winning 123 Games and making two All-Star squads.
  • Dennis Leonard – Spent 12 years on the mound exclusively for the Royals and posted a record of 144-106…won 20 games in 1977.
  • Mike Cubbage – Eight seasons as an AL infielder in the 70’s & 80’s, he also managed the Mets for seven games in 1991.
  • Ken Forsch – 16 seasons as a Pitcher in the 70’s & 80’s, he won 114 games and made two All-Star teams…his brother Bob had 168 victories.
  • Bob Boken – Played in 147 games during the 1933 & 1934 seasons and spent 17 years in the minor leagues…playing for AA St. Paul from 1935-38, he posted BA numbers of .298, .294, .300 & .297.
  • Gus Suhr – The Pirates starting 1B of the 1930’s, he was a member of the 1936 All-Star team.
  • Daryl Spencer – A regular in the line-up for the Giants and was part of the squad who left for San Francisco in 1958.
  • Jeff Torborg – A big league Catcher for 10 years in the 60’s & 70’s, he also managed for 11 seasons with multiple teams.
  • Don Money – A 16-year career that stretched from 1968-83, he made four all-Star teams.
  • Ken McBride – A member of the Los Angeles Angels rotation in their inaugural season (1961), he made three consecutive All-Star teams with the Halos.  

Gotta’ love those baseball memories.

The Fantasy Crystal Ball


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Each year, a number of us who write about the game are fortunate enough to be included in the best Fantasy Baseball pre-season magazine. It is called “The Fantasy Baseball Guide – Professional Edition” and is edited by that Superhero, Rotoman. For many of us, the contribution is a list of “Picks and Pans” where we try to predict which players the readers should target or avoid.
 
Before attempting to objectively assign a grade to my own 2020 predictions, a few disclaimers are in order…
 
1) While the publication itself hits the shelves in anticipation of Spring Training, our lists need to be submitted well before the December holidays. At that point, numerous free agents haven’t signed and many MLB roster roles haven’t been determined.
 
2)  The Old Duck always attempts to focus on players that are more marginal than the obvious fantasy stars. You don’t need me to tell you that Mike Trout is a good player, you need me to find you a bargain or to steer you away from an over-rated player. Taking this approach is more fun but also more challenging.
 
3) One lesson to take away from this exercise is that being an “expert” has a price. Most of my opponents sitting around the Draft table (or on their laptop) have read the magazine and already know my thoughts about many players. Having your name in print is a reasonable excuse for sharing information, but for those of you in home leagues, make sure you keep your opinions to yourself in the company of your mortal enemies.
 
4) You don’t need to be reminded that 2020 was a unique year.
 
So, without pulling any punches, let’s see how the Quacker made out…first the prediction and then the post-season analysis.
 
> Sandy Alcantara, PICK – Led the NL in losses, but his 2nd half showed signs of improvement…you could do worse for a 3rd or 4th SP. Got seven starts with an impressive 3.00 ERA…Grade “A”
 
> Jose Altuve, PAN – Love the player, but he’ll be overpriced because the speed is gone…SB’s went from 32 to 17 to 6. Hit .219 with the lowest OPS (.629) of his career…Grade “A”
 
> Nick Anderson, PICK – The Rays bullpen is totally unpredictable, but he had 110 K’s in 65 IP. Had 6 Saves & 6 Holds with a ERA of 0.55…Grade “A”
 
> Archie Bradley, PICK – Looks like he’s finally the Closer at age 27. Never really took charge in AZ and was traded to the Reds in mid-season. Ended up with 6 Saves and a 2.95 ERA…Grade “C”
 
> Madison Bumgarner, PICK – Don’t let the injury plagued seasons of ’17 & ’18 cloud your vision…how many SP’s had 200 IP and 200 K’s last season? Injuries and diminished velocity spelled disaster. Had 1 Win and a 6.48 ERA…Grade “F”
 
> Lorenzo Cain, PAN – This is what happens when a team gives a player in his 30’s a long-term contract….813 OPS in ’18, .697 in ’19. And there are three years left on the deal. Only had 16 AB’s before opting out for the season…no Grade
 
> Victor Caratini, PICK – The Catching position is a Roto wasteland and he posted a .794 OPS. If Contreras gets dealt, the job is his. His OPS dropped to .661 but still a serviceable option in two-Catcher leagues…Grade “C”
 
> Matt Carpenter, PAN – Another 30+ player who got an extension….897 OPS at age 32, .726 at age 33 and there are two more years on the contract. Hit .186 with a .640 OPS…Grade “A”
 
> Emmanuel Clase, PICK – At age 22, he’s the Closer of the future in Texas
…but will it be in 2020? Didn’t pitch in ’20…no Grade
 
> Garrett Cooper, PICK – Not a prospect at age 29, but he should have an everyday job and the .281 BA & .344 OBP won’t hurt you in the end game. In and out of the line-up, he still managed 6 HR’s and .853 OPS…Grade “B”
 
> Ian Desmond, PAN – This may sound like a broken record, but don’t give long-term deals to guys in their 30’s…his SB’s went from 20 to 3. Opted out for ’20…no Grade
 
> Giovanny Gallegos, PICK – If Carlos Martinez goes to the rotation, this guy’s stuff will play as a Closer…93 K’s in 74 IP and a 1.66 ERC. 2 Wins, 4 Saves and a 3.60 ERA in limited appearances…Grade “B”
 
> Paul Goldschmidt, PAN – The type of player every fan should admire, but he won’t get better at age 32…OPS went down 100 points in St. Louis
. Rebounded to a .883 OPS but only had 6 HR’s…Grade “C”
 
> Niko Goodrum, PICK -Sneaky Roto asset who qualifies at three positions while providing double-digit HR’s & SB’s. Disappointed his Fantasy GM’s with a .184 BA…Grade “D”
 
> Garrett Hampson, PICK – Disappointing season but he had 15 SB’s in less than 300 AB’s…monitor playing time. 5 HR’s, 6 SB’s but only a .671 OPS…Grade “C”
 
> Keston Hiura, PICK – A .938 OPS as a rookie, he’s the real deal. Contributed 13 HR’s but led the NL in K’s and hit only .212…Grade “C”
 
> Eric Hosmer, PAN – Even without factoring in the huge contract, a .735 OPS isn’t what you need from a corner. The .851 OPS was his best in years but only played 38 games…Grade “C”
 
> Dakota Hudson, PAN – His ERC (real ERA) was almost a run higher than his actual ERA (4.32 / 3.35)…tread lightly. Got 8 starts with a 2.77 ERA…Grade “D”
 
> Carter Kieboom, PICK – Let others be fooled by his “cup of coffee” BA of .128…he should be in the line-up everyday at age 22. Your humble scribe was the fool as he hit .202 with one extra base hit in 99 AB’s…Grade “F”
 
> Dinelson Lamet, PICK – 105 K’s in 73 IP tells you he’s all the way back from TJS. 12 starts with a 2.09 ERA and 93 K’s in 69 IP…Grade “A”
 
> Nicky Lopez, PAN – A .601 OPS in 379 AB’s says he might one of those AAAA players. Hit .201 with a .552 OPS…Grade “A”
 
> Seth Lugo, PICK – Starter or reliever, his stuff is sensational…1.97 ERC in 80 IP with 104 K’s. Bouncing between starting and relieving didn’t work, as he had 3 Wins, 3 Saves and a 5.15 ERA…Grade “C”
 
> Manny Machado, PAN – Durable with good numbers, but he’ll be significantly overpriced in all formats…his lifetime OPS away from Camden Yards is less than .800. Found the Petco dimensions to his liking with 13 of his 16 HR’s coming at home. The .950 OPS made him worth the Roto $…Grade “D”
 
> Andres Munoz, PICK – If Kirby Yates gets traded, having this guy on your reserve list will make you look smart. Didn’t pitch in ’20…no Grade
 
> Joe Musgrove, PICK – Not a top-tier SP, but his ERC of 3.66 compared to his ERA of 4.44 tells you his performance was better than it seemed. Still battled minor injuries but the numbers are tantalizing with a 3.56 ERC and 55 K’s in 40 IP’s…Grade “B”
 
> Brandon Nimmo, PICK – ’19 was wiped out by injury, but his lifetime OBP of .387 is impressive and he’s only 27. A .404 OBP means that he belongs at the top of the Mets line-up…Grade “B”
 
> Marcell Ozuna, PAN – Last three seasons WAR rating…6.1, 2.9 & 2.2. My sincerest apologies…Grade “F”
 
> A.J. Pollock, PAN – Hasn’t played over 113 games since 2015. Looks like a short-season is just what he needed with 18 HR’s in 55 games…Grade “C”
 
> Touki Toussaint, PAN – This might turn out to be the only time Dave Stewart was right. 8.88 ERA…Grade “A”
 
> Julio Urias, PICK – If he’s set in the rotation when you draft, grab him…still only 23 years old. Did you watch the last game of the Fall Classic…Grade “A”
 
> Jesse Winker, PAN – When you hit .163 against LH, you go the way of Jake Lamb. Showed improvement with 12 HR’s and a .932 OPS…Grade “D”
 
> Brandon Woodruff, PICK – A non-arm injury took away a third of his starts, but a 3.13 ERC and 10.6 K/9 tells the tale. Didn’t miss a start with a 3.05 ERA and 91 K’s in 74 IP’s…Grade “A”
 
> Rougned Odor, PAN – Should be in his prime at age 26, but he has no plate discipline…struck out over 30% of the time. Hit .167…Grade “A”
 
> Franmil Reyes, PAN – The 37 HR’s get your attention, but look below the surface at a 28.5% K Rate and a 8.6% BB rate. Got a full-time gig and hit .275 with 9 HR’s but his K rate was 33%…Grade “C”
 
> Bryan Reynolds, PAN – His surprising rookie campaign was nice, but a .387 BABIP isn’t sustainable. Hit .189…Grade “A”
 
> Matt Barnes, PICK – If the BoSox haven’t signed a Closer by the time you read this, here’s an interesting stat…his 15.39 K Rate was second only to Josh Hader. Did capture 9 Saves but his ERA was 4.30…Grade “C”
 
> Nick Ahmed, PICK – The average fan wouldn’t know that he’s the best defensive SS in baseball…guys like that don’t lose their spot in the line-up and 19 HR’s, 8 SB’s & .753 OPS is middle infield gold. 5 HR’s, 4 SB’s & .729 OPS…Grade “B”
 
> Trevor Bauer, PAN – Amazing stuff, but it doesn’t always translate to success…in six full seasons, he’s only had an ERA under 4.18 once. Does the word “oops’ mean anything to you…Grade “F”
 
> Tom Murphy, PICK – At age 29, we had given up on him multiple times, but he seemed to figure things out in Seattle
with a .858 OPS…if Narvaez gets traded, he has a full-time job. Missed the campaign due to injury…no Grade
 
 
 
 
 
 
Statistics can be manipulated to reach a number of different conclusions, but the Quacker did manage “A” or “B” ratings on 16 of the 34 players. The overall GPA was about 2.44, which matches my blood alcohol level in college. The good news is that Alcantara, Woodruff, Cooper, Musgrove & Nimmo were helpful members on my fantasy squad…hope they helped you too.
 
 

Heroes

Growing up in New England, I had two sports heroes. One was Ted Williams, the greatest hitter in baseball history and the other was Bill Russell, the winner of the most championships in the history of the NBA. For a youngster, watching them play was a privilege but at that age, I didn’t understand that being a hero is much more than just playing a game.

Williams grew up in a ramshackle house in San Diego with a Mother who gave her time to charity instead of her family and a Dad who was seldom there. Russell was born in segregated Louisiana in the 1930’s before the family moved to Oakland when he was eight years old. His Mom passed away when he was 12 and the family lived in public housing while his Dad held things together making a living as a janitor and then a steel worker. This was the history I never knew as a young sports fan.

Looking at the big picture, you have to wonder where these two young men achieved the character to become real heroes. But real heroes they were, as Williams gave up five years of his career to serve in two wars and was then the driving force in establishing the Jimmy Fund, the fund-raising arm of the Dana-Farber Cancer Clinic, which saves the lives of children with cancer. Russell overcame the racism of the NBA to speak up for causes long before it was fashionable. He helped start the player’s union by threatening to boycott the All-Star game and then stood by Muhammad Ali at that famous press conference in 1967 to protest the war in Viet Nam.

All of these memories came flooding back to me last week with the passing of Hank Aaron. If there was a Mt. Rushmore of sports heroes to admire, “Hammerin’ Hank” would certainly be included. Born the same year as Russell in segregated Alabama during the great depression, the family (including seven siblings) didn’t have things like baseball gloves & bats and Aaron’s High School didn’t even have organized baseball. In today’s world of travel teams and personal coaches, can you even imagine the world he lived in?

If his baseball career didn’t make him enough of a hero, think about his life after baseball. Especially when he showed so much class in congratulating Barry Bonds and then going back to quietly putting his focus almost entirely on philanthropic efforts.

Your humble scribe won’t attempt to duplicate all the beautiful remembrances of his life, but maybe we can read the backs of some baseball cards from his 23-year career.

  • 1954 (Rookie Card) – “Henry, in pro ball only two years, came up to the Braves after a sensational ’53 season at Jacksonville, where he won the Sally League’s MVP Award. He led the loop in six departments: Batting, RBI’s, Hits, Runs, Total Bases and Doubles. At Eau Claire in ’52, he hit .336 and was voted ROY in the Northern League.”
  • 1957 – “Hammerin’ Hank was the top batter in the NL in ’56. He won the hitting crown by jumping into the league lead in July and staying there for the last two months. During one week early in the season, Hank got red hot and skyrocketed his average 42 points! A real speedster, he led the league in Hits, Doubles and finished 3rd in Slugging.”
  • 1958 – “Hank was voted the NL MVP last year. And no wonder – he led the loop in HR’s, RBI’s and Runs scored. Hank’s performance was a big factor in the Braves championship drive”.
  • 1960 – “Hank won his 2nd NL Batting Crown last season with a hot .355. His 39 Homers were below his high mark of 44 that he clubbed in ’57. Hank has a .385 mark for 5 All-Star Games and hit .363 in two World Series.”
  • 1962 – “The star outfielder of the Milwaukee Braves has won two NL Batting titles since joining the club in 1954. Hank’s best season was in 1959 when batted .355 and clubbed in 123 RBI’s. Loaded with plenty of power, Hank led the NL with 44 HR’s in 1957.”
  • 1967 – “When one speaks of superstars, Hank’s name is always mentioned. The fabulous veteran reached a milestone in his career on April 20, 1966 when he cracked out his 399th & 400th major league home runs against the Phillies.”
  • 1968 – “The veteran slugging star continued his annual torrid hitting last season as he led the Braves in Batting, RBI’s, HR’s & Doubles. Hank’s 17 Stolen Bases topped Atlanta too.”
  • 1971 – “Hank has led the NL in Total Bases 8 times, had 300 or more Total Bases 14 times, 100 or more Runs 15 times & 150 or more games 14 times, all major league records. Tied Babe Ruth with 16th straight 20-HR year in 1970

“Trying to sneak a fastball past Hank Aaron is like trying to sneak the sunrise past a rooster.” – Joe Adcock

Vintage Rookie Cards

In 1959, Topps expanded their baseball card set to 572 cards and produced them in series. So when you purchased a pack early in the year, the cards would only be numbered 1-110 and as the year went on, other series would be offered for sale. At the time, it seemed logical, but for collectors of Topps cards from 1959-1973, it represented a challenge…and still does today. The later series were marketed late in the season when interest had waned and the cards became scarcer. So, when you hear a collector talk about “high numbers” being difficult to find, you understand the issue.

How this relates to “rookie cards” begins with that beautiful ’59 set. The best rookie card that year was future Hall of Famer Bob Gibson and his card was in the high number series (#514)…making it a tough card to find, especially in nice condition. In addition, all the All-Star cards were also in the high number run, creating another difficult collecting challenge that included Mantle, Mays & Aaron. The current value for the “Gibby” RC is $700.

The values listed are for cards graded NM 7 (Near Mint).

As the calendar turned to the 60’s, many great players made their debut and their rookie cards were (and still are) in great demand. In 1960, there was Carl Yastrzemski ($350) & Willie McCovey ($275). 1961 had Juan Marichal ($100) & Billy Williams ($55)…and in ’62, it was Lou Brock ($275), Joe Torre ($125) & Gaylord Perry ($150).

The 1963 Topps set included a concept where many of the rookies were shown together on cards that had small, cropped photos of four different players…and they were in the high series. That is where you’ll find the rookie card of Pete Rose…shown with Pedro Gonzalez, Ken McMullen & Al Weis. While not very visually appealing, it is still a valuable card indeed at a book price of $2,200. Willie Stargell’s rookie card ($265) is also in this category and includes three more obscure players.

The ’64 set has Phil Niekro ($100) and there are lots of Hall of Famers in ’65 with Steve Carlton ($200), “Catfish” Hunter ($80) & Tony Perez ($90). ’66 included three HOF hurlers with Jim Palmer ($95), Fergie Jenkins ($75) & Don Sutton ($65). Tom Seaver ($900) & Rod Carew ($375) both debuted in the high number series of the ’67 set.

The 1968 set features the rookie cards of two of the most popular players of the era…Nolan Ryan ($1,200) & Johnny Bench ($225). Once again, Topps included multiple rookies on certain cards, so Ryan shares his cardboard with Jerry Koosman, while Bench is shown with Ron Tomkins. Finishing off the decade, Reggie Jackson ($500) & Rollie Fingers ($45) grace the ’69 set with their rookie cards.

1970 had Thurman Munson’s RC ($100). The ’71 set (with black borders) is especially difficult to find in nice condition and has HOF members Bert Blyleven ($115) & Ted Simmons ($90) along with a card that features both Dusty Baker and Don Baylor ($80).

The end of the era featured Carlton Fisk in ’72 ($45) and Mike Schmidt ($275) in ’73.

Ironically, five of the Hall of Famers in this collection are among former major leaguers who passed away in 2020 and then we lost Sutton just this week.

Remembering Tommy

The history of baseball is filled with “characters”. Looking back over 100+ years, these eccentric ballplayers brought a quality to the game that can’t be duplicated. Rube Waddell, Babe Ruth, Dizzy Dean, Satchel Paige, Casey Stengel, Yogi Berra, Bob Uecker, Mark Fidrych and so many others have added an indelible mental snapshot of this sport we love.

It seems, however, that “characters” have become somewhat of an endangered species in today’s game. Maybe it’s political correctness, maybe it’s an average salary of almost $4 Million or maybe it’s the fault of Crash Davis when he taught all those clichés to Nuke LaLoosh. Nuke may have been a character in Durham, but by the time he got to the “show”, he was saying, “We gotta play it one day at a time”.

We lost one of the great characters of the game last week when Tommy Lasorda passed away at age 93. His personality, presence and charisma may never be equaled again. You know much of the story in that he never won a major league game as a Pitcher but was a member of the Dodger organization for over 70 years including a 21-year stint as the team’s Manager from 1976-96 which yielded four pennants and two World Series championships.

Dozens of articles and retrospectives have been done in the last week and this humble scribe won’t attempt to compete with all that information. Instead, I’ll attempt to give a personal perspective as a baseball fan that lived in Los Angeles while Tommy was the skipper of the Dodgers. While he was a great guy with fans and the ultimate ambassador for the game, like most “characters”, he had other facets to his personality.

Tommy took over the reins of the Dodgers in late 1976, after managing in the Minor Leagues and serving as 3rd base coach under Walter Alston. In his first full season (1977), the team won 98 games with a roster that included many players who came up through the ranks like Davey Lopes, Steve Garvey, Ron Cey and others. He demanded loyalty (bleeding Dodger Blue) and regaled them with motivational stories that were of questionable authenticity. He also wasn’t hesitant to use criticism as a motivator…

  • After losing a game in which Garvey struck out multiple times on pitches in the dirt, he told reporters in the clubhouse that “Garvey would make a great frickin’ Cricket player, trying to hit pitches on the first bounce”.
  • One year at Spring Training, a reporter asked if he would try to make the team more aggressive on the base paths that season. He replied that if Mike Scioscia (the team’s Catcher) “was in a race with a pregnant woman, he’d finish third”.

If you were a SoCal sports fan during Tommy’s managerial era, you understand clearly that his legacy will always be intertwined with a radio broadcaster of the time named Jim Healy. His show was on the air every week night from 5:30 to 6:00 PM while all of us were working our way home on the dreaded L.A. freeways. His broadcast made the trip tolerable because there was nothing else like it anywhere. He used noise from a teletype machine, background music and a collection of audio tapes he’d acquired over the years. As sportswriter Bill Dwyre once said, “Healy threw them all together in a bouillabaisse of sports fun”.

In those days, writers & reporters had nothing more than a tape recorder to capture comments from players, coaches, mangers and executives and it seemed like anything funny, stupid or interesting ended up on Healy’s show. He had sources everywhere and most of them considered it a compliment to get these quotes fed to Healy. His studio had a sound board with all the clips and he’d insert them at his discretion during the show. Embarrassing comments would pop up from the likes of Howard Cosell, Richard Nixon and others but Tommy Lasorda’s tirades were the coin of the realm for Healy.

The first was from May of 1978 when the Dodgers lost an extra-inning game to the Cubs thanks to three Home Runs from Dave Kingman. A young reporter named Paul Olden (who is now the public address announcer for the Yankees) was at the post-game Q & A in the clubhouse and asked Tommy what he thought of Kingman’s performance? Tommy started slowly and built his way up to a crescendo of profanities that became legendary…”What the (expletive) do you think my opinion is of it? I think it was (expletive). What’s my opinion of his performance? (Expletive). He beat us with three (expletive) home runs. What the (expletive) do you mean? How can you ask me a question like that?” 

If that tape was the appetizer, the one from 1982 was the entrée. Lasorda’s Dodgers and Dick Williams’ Padres got into a brawl after San Diego’s Joe Lefebrve was hit by a pitch thrown by Tom Niedenfuer. After the game, Kurt Bevacqua accused Lasorda (he called him the fat little Italian) of ordering the pitch. Here is Tommy’s response…

“I’ll tell you what I think about it. I think that it is very, very bad for that man to make an accusation like that. That is terrible. I have never, ever, since I managed, ever told a pitcher to throw at anybody, nor will I ever. And if I ever did, I certainly wouldn’t make him throw at a (expletive) .130 hitter like Lefebvre or (expletive) Bevacqua, who couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a (expletive) boat.”

  “And I guaran-(expletive)-tee you this. When I pitched and I was going to pitch against a (expletive) team that had guys on it like Bevacqua, I sent a (expletive) limousine to get the (expletive) to make sure he was in the (expletive) line-up because I kicked that (expletive’s) (expletive) any day of the week.”

In today’s Internet age, a little searching will give you the opportunity to listen to both of these classic speeches. Two warnings, however…1) don’t have any liquid in your mouth and 2) make sure the youngsters are in another room.

None of this is meant as a criticism because Tommy Lasorda was an “old-school” ballplayer who lived by a code. He stood up for his players and expected nothing less from them. And, once the umpire said “Play Ball”, the guys in the other dugout were the enemy. So, we’ve seen a number of sides to this baseball “character”, let’s look at his heart through some quotes.

  • “About the only problem with success is that it doesn’t teach you how to deal with failure”
  • “Always give an autograph when somebody asks you”
  • “80% of the people who hear your troubles don’t care and the other 20% are glad you’re having them”
  • In respect to Fernando Valenzuela’s contract demands in 1981, “He wants Texas back”
  • “I believe managing is like holding a dove in your hand. If you hold it too tightly, you kill it, but if you hold it too loosely, you lose it”
  • “Listen, if you start worrying about the people in the stands, before long you’ll end up in the stands with them”
  • “No, we don’t cheat. And even if we did, I’d never tell you”
  • “The difference between the impossible and the possible lies in a person’s determination”
  • “When we win, I’m so happy I eat a lot. When we lose, I’m so depressed, I eat a lot. When we’re rained-out, I’m so disappointed I eat a lot”
  • “Tommy Lasorda will eat anything, as long as you pay for it” (attributed to Joe Torre)
  • “There are three types of baseball players: those who make it happen, those who watch it happen, and those who wonder what happened”
  • “I bleed Dodger Blue and when I die, I’m going to the big Dodger in the sky”

The Best Hitters of 2021

50 years ago, if a baseball fan was asked who the best hitters were, the only significant resource would have been the sports section of the Sunday newspaper. Somewhere in the back pages, there was a long, slender list in very small type showing all current major league players. And those players were ranked by their BA (Batting Average) because that had historically been the benchmark for position players.

Looking back at 1971, we find that the top five BA’s belonged to Joe Torre (.363), Ralph Garr (.343), Glenn Beckert (.342), Roberto Clemente (.341) & Tony Oliva (.337). Fine players all, but were they the five best hitters in baseball? Torre won the NL MVP but three of the others didn’t finish in their league’s top five. Garr & Beckert had 44 & 42 RBI’s respectively.

As modern baseball analytics have evolved, one of the most accepted statistics has become OPS (On-Base % + Slugging %). Not only does it prioritize getting on base, it also adds the concept of moving more runners around the bases. After all, Slugging Percentage is defined as Total Bases /At Bats. Old school fans might question the veracity of the stat but baseball history tells the tale. The five highest lifetime OPS numbers belong to Babe Ruth (1.16), Ted Williams (1.12), Lou Gehrig (1.08), Barry Bonds (1.05) & Jimmie Foxx (1.04). There are only two other hitters with a number over 1.00… Hank Greenberg and Rogers Hornsby. Mike Trout is at #8 with .999.

With Spring Training less than two months away, here’s one Duck’s opinion on the hitters for 2021 that could be the top ten this season…based on the projections from a highly respected Fantasy website.

1) Mike Trout, Angels OF, 1.057 OPS – 20 years from now, people will be describing his career as “once in a generation”. His consistency and still youthful age (29) makes him the consensus #1 hitter in the game even though he seems to have put stolen bases in the rear-view mirror. This type of performance would put over the 1.000 mark for his career.

2) Juan Soto, Nationals OF, 1.007 OPS – Still in his early 20’s, his game seems complete.

3) Freddie Freeman, Braves 1B/, .972 OPS – The NL MVP is in his prime.

4) Christian Yelich, Brewers OF, .938 OPS – At age 29, most fans & scribes seem to be giving him a “Mulligan” for 2020.

5) Anthony Rendon, Angels 3B, .935 OPS – His first campaign with the Halos produced a .915 OPS.

6) Mookie Betts, Dodgers OF, .931 OPS – Lived up to the hype and won a ring…he loves L.A.

7) Yordan Alvarez, Astros DH, .921 OPS – Lost the entire 2020 season with knee issues but the potential at age 23 is off the charts.

8) Cody Bellinger, Dodgers OF/1B, .917 OPS – Won ROY & MVP in his first three seasons…don’t let 2020 scare you off.

9) Fernando Tatis Jr., Padres SS, .912 OPS – Just turned 22 and in his first 558 MLB AB’s, has 39 HR’s & 27 SB’s.

10) Bryce Harper, Phillies Of, .909 OPS – Still only 28 with lots of experience, he had more Walks than Strikeouts in 2020.

Did your favorite player get left off the list? The next two are also over .900…Xander Bogaerts & Alex Bregman. Or maybe some youngsters take the next step? We’ll all be watching.

As for 1971, the two players who exceeded 1.000 OPS were Hank Aaron & Willie Stargell.

Ballplayers Remembered

Are you a real baseball fan? A true baseball fan? Don’t reply too quickly because membership in this exclusive club requires certain criteria. Can you answer yes to most of the following questions…?

> Do you still have a vivid memory of that Home Run you hit in Little League?

> Does it take you back in time when you remember that first autograph from a major leaguer?

> Did you study statistics and do you still know the lifetime batting average of your favorite player?

> Is there at least one big league jersey hanging in your closet?

> Do you have a T-shirt that shows an outline of the state of Iowa and says, “Is This Heaven?

> Does a 3-2 count with the bases loaded still put you on the edge of your seat?

> Is there a Bill James publication somewhere on your bookshelf?

There are dozens more on the baseball SAT, but you get the idea. This marvelous sport we love is part of the fabric of our lives. If you’re a baby boomer or a millennial, the history of the game speaks to you and you’re always ready for a baseball-themed conversation…or debate. You can probably name most of the 32 players who have reached 3,000 hits but a football fan wouldn’t even know some of the 31 players with 10,000 career rushing yards if you gave them the names. If you doubt that, ask some of your Fantasy Football buddies about Thomas Jones or Corey Dillon.

So, as we celebrate the history of the game and try to overcome the disaster known as 2020, let’s take a look at who the sport lost in the past year…

> Tom Seaver, Mets P 1967-1986 – Incredibly, seven HOF players passed away during the year and “Tom Terrific” was possibly the most famous. He won 311 games in his amazing career and led the “Miracle Mets” to the World Series championship in 1969. That was the first of his three Cy Young seasons.

> Joe Morgan, Reds 2B 1963-1984 – Arguably, one the greatest all-around players in history, he won two MVP Awards, five Gold Gloves and swiped 689 bases.

> Al Kaline, Tigers OF 1953-1974 – One of the few players to never appear in the minor leagues, he joined the Bengals at age 18 and accumulated over 3,000 hits and won 10 Gold Gloves.

> Bob Gibson, Cardinals P 1959-1975 – One of the most intimidating hurlers of his time, batters didn’t dig in against “Gibby”. His 1.12 ERA in 1968 earned him the Cy Young Award and the MVP.

> Whitey Ford, Yankees P 1950-1967 – Posted a record of 236-106 as the ace of the Yankees dynasty. Won the Cy Young Award in ’61 with a mark of 25-4.

> Lou Brock, Cardinals OF 1961-1979 – Had over 3,000 hits and led the NL in SB’s eight times. Ironically, Ernie Broglio was on this list a year ago.

> Phil Niekro, Braves P 1964-1987 – A master of the knuckleball, he pitched until age 48. Won 318 games in his storied career and in 1979, he started 44 games (completing 23 of them) and had a record of 21-20.

> Dick Allen, Phillies 3B 1963-1977 – Somewhat controversial in his day, his prowess with the bat can’t be denied. ROY in ’64, MVP in ’72 and a lifetime OPS of .912.

> Jim Wynn, Astros OF 1953-1977 – “The Toy Cannon” stood less than six feet tall but hit 291 HR’s.

> Ron Perranoski, Dodgers P 1961-1973 – Won two World Series rings with L.A. in the mid-60’s and then led the AL in Saves in ’69 & ’70 with the Twins.

> Lindy McDaniel, Cardinals P 1955-1975 – How about 141 Wins and 174 Saves? Led the NL in Saves three times.

> Tony Fernandez, Blue Jays SS 1983-2001 – Won four consecutive Gold Gloves in the 80’s and had over 2,200 hits.

> Don Larsen, Yankees P 1953-1967 – Will there ever be another World Series moment like Game 5 in 1956?

Over 100 former big-leaguers died in 2020 and if you’re a real fan, you’ll remember many of the others. There were guys who played in the 40’s like Johnny Antonelli, Gil Coan, Ed Fitzgerald & Bob Miller, guys who played over 15 years like Mike McCormick, Tony Taylor, Claudell Washington & Bob Watson and guys who made us laugh like Jay Johnstone. And, a few more who played in only one season like Tom Yewcic, Hank Workman, Bob Stephenson, Bobby Prescott and Rich Hacker.

They’re all part of the history because they were all in the “Show”.

Wanting More in ’94

For those of us who have been playing Fantasy Baseball long enough to still call it “Rotisserie Baseball”, memories of baseball seasons gone bye and the people in our life circle bring back a flood of memories on a regular basis. I’d already been thinking about the truncated 2020 season and its correlation to the strike-shortened 1994 campaign when the sad news arrived that a long-time friend had passed away from Covid-19.

Of course, Terry Brutocao was much more than a friend. We first met in the 1970’s as two of the “young lions” of the Southern California bowling industry. He was a lawyer by trade but his family operated three very successful bowling centers and he became an integral part of that success as his Dad & Uncle grew older and withdrew from day-to-day operations. We seemed to become good friends from day one and had wonderful times at industry conventions, golf outings (his family had a Condo at Indian Wells), sports events and social gatherings. We also found time to give back and volunteered our time to the industry’s trade association and helped with charitable events that raised scholarship dollars for youth bowlers.

In 1984, when the original “Rotisserie League Baseball” book landed in book stores, Terry was one of my first phone calls and he quickly became a charter member of our league. He and his partner Paul were perfect Fantasy league members…competitive but clearly understanding that it was all about having fun. Each April at our Draft, they would present the “Big Flush” award to the team that had taken the biggest “dump” the previous season. It wasn’t a trophy, it was a toilet seat.

Terry played for 15 seasons and coincidently, his team (the T.P Express) won their first Championship in that 1994 season, outdistancing my Donald’s Ducks by 5 points. Of course, I told him that if there had been 162 games instead of 114, the standings would have been different. He just smiled…and then he won again in ’95.

So, as a symbolic tribute to my dear friend, here’s his championship squad from 1994…

1B) Eric Karros

2B) Roberto Mejia

SS) Kevin Stocker

3B) Arci Cianfrocco

C) Kelly Stinnett

C) Charlie O’Brien

1/3) Rickey Jordan

2/S) Rickey Guiterrez

OF) Deion Sanders

OF) Bernard Gilkey

OF) Larry Walker

OF) Moises Alou

OF) Raul Mondesi

U) Greg Colbrunn

P) Todd Worrell

P) Rheal Cormier

P) Greg Maddux

P) Jeff Fassero

P) John Burkett

P) Jeff Brantley

P) Norm Charlton

P) Orel Hershiser

P) Bobby Jones

The team led the league is SB’s (Sanders had 38) and three of the four pitching categories (Maddux won the Cy Young Award). Walker and Alou had spectacular campaigns and Mondesi won the ROY. Ironically, Burkett bowled on the PBA tour after his baseball career was over.

Sending my love to Ann and the family…and remembering my friend.