Fear Strikes Out

'56 Piersall

Casual baseball fans know the stars of the 50’s & 60’s. Williams, Mantle, Mays, Aaron, Koufax, Clemente and other Hall of Famers are part of the sports culture and their legacies endure. However, for those of us who actually watched baseball in those decades, there are hundreds of outstanding ballplayers who we remember even though they might not have the same cache or reputation of perennial All-Stars. Names like Carl Furillo, Bobby Avila, Ted Kluszewski, Vic Power, Harvey Kuenn, Minnie Minoso, Dick Groat and so many others.

 

Last week, when Jimmy Piersall passed away at age 87, it brought back a flood of memories for that young boy who spent so many days at Fenway Park in the 1950’s. Sure, he made a couple of All-Star teams (’54 & ’56) and won two Gold Gloves (’58 & ’61) but he was never a “star” and today, the average fan under the age of 50 probably doesn’t know much about him. He played in the days before ESPN highlights, video replays on the scoreboard and interleague play, so his reputation can only be preserved by those of us who watched him patrol the outfield with grace and style.

 

His playing career was certainly worthy of accolades with 17 years in the major leagues and over 1,600 lifetime hits but I feel sorry for all my baseball friends who never got the chance to see him track down a deep fly ball and rob the hitter of a Home Run. And, for Fantasy Baseball team owners, how about his age 26 season at the plate in 1956….293 BA, 14 HR’s, 87 RBI’s, 7 SB’s, a league-leading 40 Doubles and more walks (58) than strikeouts (48).

 

With all that being said, this player’s human interest story is actually more amazing than his baseball career on the field. His first real taste of the big leagues was in 1952 but his erratic behavior got him sent back to the minors where the personal issues escalated to the point that he was hospitalized for seven weeks with “nervous exhaustion”…a 50’s term for mental disorders. He returned to the Red Sox in ’53 and had an outstanding season, finishing 9th in the MVP balloting.

 

In 1955, he shared the challenges of his life in the best-selling book “Fear Strikes Out”. It wasn’t the age where people talked about these types of personal issues, but with the assistance of his co-author Al Hirshberg, he helped countless readers get through their own dark days. In 1957, Hollywood made the book into a major motion picture starring Anthony Perkins (three years before “Psycho”) and Karl Malden.

 

Of course, Jimmy’s personality was always “quirky” even in the best of times and his later career as a broadcaster wasn’t exactly smooth sailing when it came to getting along with team management. But as he once said, “Probably the best thing that ever happened to me was going nuts. Who ever heard of Jimmy Piersall before that happened?”

 

None of the details matter for that young boy who can still see Jimmy gliding back to the 380 marker in front of the bullpen in right field…you just knew he would make the catch.

The 60-Day WAR

Cozart

 

For baseball fans and Fantasy team owners, looking at the standings at the beginning of June reveals a telling statistic – the major league season is 1/3 over. Just about 54 games are in the books and it’s time for an honest evaluation of your team. No more excuses of slumps, shifts, off-season injuries, smoke & mirror performances and the like. As with most real-life situations, it’s all about what you’ve done for me lately and what you project to do moving forward.

 

Some very predictable things have already happened. Billy Hamilton is stealing lots of bases, Yoan Moncada is still in the minors, Neftali Feliz is no longer closing and A.J. Pollock is injured. On the other end of the spectrum, how about the best-of-the-best? Who are really the top MLB players so far for 2017? Not just the obvious stars, but also the underrated contributors that help teams win, but may not get the headlines. Where do we find an objective, unbiased determination to create this list? The answer is…we go to WAR.

 

WAR (Wins Above Replacement) is a new-age metric developed by SABRmetricians to gauge the value of an individual player to his team. It creates a number that represents how many wins the player adds to his team’s record above what a replacement player (AAA or AAAA) would add. A one-season figure of 8 or better is MVP caliber, while 5 or better is All-Star level. Some “old-school” fans don’t always buy into the stat, but the results tell you that it is very much on-target. The major league leader in three of the last five years is Mike Trout and the lifetime leader is Babe Ruth. The all-time top five also includes Willie Mays, Ty Cobb & Hank Aaron. So, with the help of baseball-reference.com, let’s see where we are for the first third of 2017.

 

As your humble essayist is from the school of thought that hitters should win the MVP and pitchers should win the Cy Young, we’ll list the offensive players first and then the hurlers. Stats are as of June 6th…

 

> Position Players

 

1) Zack Cozart, Reds SS 3.5 WAR – An amazing performance by a veteran player who has been rumored to be on the trading block… a .353 BA and 1.065 OPS tells the story. Of course, he can’t be this good but he did have his best season in 2016 at age 30.

 

2) Mike Trout, Angels OF 3.4 WAR – This extraordinary player may have been having his best season ever (.337, 16 HR, 36 RBI, 10 SB) but now he’s injured and could miss as much as two months. The real question is, can he be the best player in the game in only 2/3 of a season?

 

3) Aaron Judge, Yankees OF 3.4 WAR – 18 HR’s in 53 games and he’s also batting .328.

 

4T) Paul Goldschmidt, D’Backs 1B 3.0 WAR – No surprise here, he’s one of the most consistent players in the game. In his four full seasons, his average WAR is 6.0.

 

4T) Nolan Arenado, Rockies 3B 3.0 WAR – Only 26, he’s averaged 6.2 WAR the last two seasons and also won Gold Gloves in both years.

 

6) Anthony Rendon, Nationals 3B 2.8 WAR – Finally fulfilling that promise from five years ago…and avoiding injuries.

 

> Pitchers

 

 

1) Dallas Keuchel, Astros SP  3.1 WAR – Back from 2016’s injury-plagued season, he’s unbeaten at 9-0 with a 1.67 ERA.

 

2) Mike Leake, Cardinals SP 2.9 WAR – In this age of velocity, he’s a hurler with guile. Did you know that he’s the only player on this list who has never spent a day in the minor leagues?

 

3) Max Scherzer, Nationals SP 2.8 WAR – Can you think of any other Pitcher you’d rather have on the mound for a big game? He’s got 120 K’s and only 20 BB in 84+ IP

 

4) Jason Vargas, Royals SP 2.8 WAR – What kind of odds could you have gotten at a Vegas sportsbook that this veteran would be in the top ten? He only pitched in the three games last season.

 

Just outside the top ten are position players Carlos Correa & Corey Dickerson as well as Pitchers Ervin Santana & Zack Greinke.

 

How many will still be on the list when another 1/3 of the season is gone in early August?

 

The Nickname Collection

Ducky Medwick

Do you have a nickname? No, not the one relegated to private moments with your significant other. One that would be acceptable in a public setting. For me, it started in High School when friends got tired of people mispronouncing  my last name and shortened their greeting to “Drook”. Their logic was that even teenagers could figure out it rhymed with brook, crook or even schnook. To this day, the closest people in my life call me by that name and it has graced the personalized license plate on a parade of vehicles since 1972.

 

Once Rotisserie Baseball became part of the landscape in the mid-80’s, naming my first team “Donald’s Ducks” created nicknames galore. “The Duck” was obvious but being the Commissioner of the league also added “Bowie Duck” (after Bowie Kuhn) and “CFL Duck” (Commissioner For Life). Over the last 30 years, many other variations have appeared including one coined by my adopted Sister, who lovingly refers to me as “The Quacker”.

 

A few years ago, a wonderful Sports Illustrated column by Steve Rushin on the mystical qualities of baseball names (did you know there was a Phillies player in 1915 named Bud Weiser?) got the wheels turning regarding the legacy of great baseball nicknames. So, today’s exercise will be to update a column from 2013 that creates a baseball card collection of the players whose nicknames endure within our National Pastime. We’re not talking about the obvious ones like “The Splendid Splinter”, “The Yankee Clipper” or “Stan The Man”. No Hall-of-Famers here, just the ones embraced by real fans who read the backs of baseball cards and remember the aroma of bubble gum in the packs. We’ll stick with the post-World War II era, in order for the actual Rookie Cards to be accessible in the general marketplace.  As always, the value of the individual cards is based on “Near Mint” (NM) condition.

 

> Ron Cey, “The Penguin” – Not sure how much he enjoyed the moniker based on his awkward running style, but it fit perfectly. The back story is that Tommy Lasorda came up with the name when he was Cey’s Minor League Manager. His Rookie Card is from 1972 Topps (#761) and is worth about $15.

 

> Fred McGriff, “The Crime Dog” – This one is credited to Chris Berman and is based on McGruff, the cartoon Crime Dog. His 1986 Donruss card (#28) books for around $5.

 

> Mike Hargrove, “The Human Rain Delay” – You’d have time to get a hot dog from the concession stand before he got back in the batter’s box. His 1975 Topps issue (#106) is $2.

 

> Dennis Boyd, “Oil Can” – In his native Mississippi, beer was sometimes referred to as oil. $1 will get you his 1984 Donruss card (#457).

 

> Don Mossi, “Ears” – Jim Bouton said, “he looked like a cab going down the street with its doors open”. His 1955 Topps card (#85) will set you back $15.

 

> Jim Grant, “Mudcat” – Supposedly, his boyhood idol Larry Doby gave him the nickname when they were roommates on the Indians. The 1958 Topps Rookie Card (#394) books for $5.

 

> Mark Fidrych, “The Bird” – One of the great characters of the game, he talked to the baseball and looked like Big Bird from Sesame Street. His 1977 Topps card (#265) is $3.

 

> Jimmy Wynn, “The Toy Cannon” – A 5′ 10″ Centerfielder, he hit 291 career Home Runs. His 1964 Topps card (#38) is about $5.

 

> Steve Balboni, “Bye Bye” – At 6′ 3″ & 225 lbs. he hit 36 Home Runs for the Royals in 1985. Of course, he also led the AL with 166 Strikeouts. You’ll get change from your dollar when you purchase his 1982 Topps card (#83).

 

> Carl Pavano, “American Idle” – You get stuck with this type of derisive name when you sign a 4-year, $38 Million contract and only make nine starts. His 1996 Bowman card (#259) will cost you a buck.

 

> Vince Coleman, “Vincent Van Go” – For Fantasy players in the 80’s, his Stolen Base artistry dominated the category. $1 will buy his 1985 Topps Traded issue (#24T)

 

> Rusty Staub, “Le Grand Orange” – Getting traded to a city where they speak French created this memorable entry. His 1963 Topps card (#544) will cost at least $20 because it is from the scarce high-number series.

 

> Al Hrabowsky, “The Mad Hungarian” – His angry demeanor on the mound was meant to intimidate batters and the facial hair added to the image. His Rookie Card is from 1971 Topps (#594) and is valued at $4.

 

> Dick Stuart, “Dr. Strangeglove” – In 1963, this slugger hit 42 Home Runs and led the AL with 118 RBI’s as a member of the Red Sox. All that was forgotten when the movie “Dr. Strangelove” debuted in ’64 and people focused on his 29 errors at 1B. You can get his 1959 Topps card (#357) for around $4.

 

> Joe Medwick, “Ducky” – We’ll make an exception for this Hall-of-Famer who was the 1937 NL MVP. His 1935 Rookie Card from Batter Up (#145) will set you back $425. A very expensive Duck, indeed. Of course, “Goose” Goslin’s card was also in this set and costs $100 less.

 

> For a more affordable fowl, there’s the 1954 Topps card (#191) of Dick “Ducky” Schofield which can be had for $45.

 

We’ve only touched the surface of this endless topic. Do you have a favorite nickname that wasn’t on this initial list? Send it along and we’ll visit the subject again.

Free Agent Fantasy

Martinez Heritage

Millions of people play Fantasy Baseball and the spectrum is very wide. A large percentage just play in on-line leagues (ESPN, Yahoo, etc.) where the challenge is minimal and they’re only in it for the current season. The real players, however, know that a keeper league is more like owning a baseball team because this year’s decisions can impact next year’s success.

 

As the calendar gets close to Memorial Day, Fantasy players begin to think about their realistic chance to contend and if a trade will help their cause. For old school leagues, many factors come into play like the salary and position eligibility of available players. If you play in a format that is AL or NL only, an even more important consideration could be the real-world contract status of a player. Over the 30+ years the Old Duck has played in these leagues, it’s been very surprising to see deals made that don’t seem to include this analysis. If a player you’re trading for is going to be a free agent in 2018, there’s a reasonable chance he might not be on your roster next year. More importantly, if he gets traded to the “other” league in July, you’ve lost half o the value you traded for in late-May. This even impacts mixed leagues (AL & NL) because the player’s role may change. Jeremy Jeffress had 27 Saves in four months for the Brewers last season and had Zero Saves for the Rangers in August & September.

 

As you scan your league’s rosters for possible acquisitions, make sure these players (all free agents after 2017) are really what you need to win…

 

> C Jonathan Lucroy – after hitting 24 HR’s in 2016, he has only 3 so far in 2017…maybe he’s feeling the pressure of free agency?

 

> 1B Yonder Alonso – can he sustain this season’s incredible start and where will he be next year?

 

> 1B Eric Hosmer – one of four Royal regulars in their walk year…which ones stay and which ones leave?

 

> 1B Logan Morrison – will the Rays try to turn his hot start into a prospect in July?

 

> 3B / OF Eduardo Nunez – if the Giants aren’t in the race, look for him to head for a contender in the next 60 days

 

> SS Zack Cozart – another 30-something veteran playing over his baseline

 

> 3B Todd Frazier – right now, he’s below the Mendoza line but if he heats up, he’s gone

 

> OF J.D. Martinez – back from the DL and hitting…watch where the Tigers are in the standings

 

> OF Lorenzo Cain – good all-around player could help numerous contenders

 

> OF Jay Bruce – if the Mets continue to struggle, he’s a trade chip

 

> SP Yu Darvish – the Rangers could trade him and sign him back for 2018…remember Aroldis Chapman?

 

> SP Marco Estrada – the Blue Jays might be out of the race by July

 

> RP Brandon Kintzler – closing now, but he could be a set-up guy elsewhere

 

> RP Tony Watson – you’ve heard this somewhere before but he could be a set-up guy elsewhere

 

Numerous other everyday players fall into this category including Alex Avila, Lucas Duda, Mike Napoli, Mark Reynolds, Carlos Santana, Brandon Phillips, Neil Walker, Erick Aybar, Alcides Escobar, Mike Moustakas, Trevor Plouffe, Danny Valencia, Melky Cabrera, Rajah Davis, Jarrod Dyson, Carlos Gonzalez, Alex Cobb, Jaime Garcia, Jeremy Hellickson and more.

 

Of course, there are all also dozens of others who have opt-out clauses, so just make sure real-world contract status is part of your toolbox.

 

 

Top Ten Baseball Cards Of The 80’s

'80 Henderson PSA 80001

The baseball card industry had a sea change in the 1980’s as the Topps Company no longer had exclusivity with regard to MLB licensing. Fleer & Donruss entered the market in ’81, followed later in the decade by Score, Upper Deck, Bowman & others. This led to a glut of cards on the market and multiple versions of the best players. Rookie cards dominated the demand by collectors and each of this writer’s extended top ten falls into the RC category. Included in the description of each card is the current price of that collectible in Near Mint + condition.

 

#1) 1980 Topps Rickey Henderson (#482, $60) – The final year of the Topps monopoly and the rookie card of the game’s greatest lead-off man…many of these cards are off-center, as quality control was inconsistent.

 

#2) 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. (#1, $30) – A new card company with the first of the upscale cards made the historic decision of having “Junior” be the first card in the set and he became one of the best all-round players in history…you will also find his rookie card in four other ’89 brands, but this is the one to have.

 

#3) 1982 Topps Traded Cal Ripken Jr. (#T98, $80) – Even though the “Iron Man” was in three regular sets in ’82, this is the card that is most valuable due to picture quality & scarcity….his regular issue Topps card from ’82 (#21, $20) has him sharing the front with two other players.

 

#4) 1984 Donruss Don Mattingly (#248, $20) – Of the three Mattingly rookie cards, this one of “Donnie Baseball” is visually better and slightly scarce compared to the others.

 

#5) 1983 Topps Tony Gwynn (#482, $15) – “Mr. Padre” and eight-time batting champion on the great format of this issue…each card front features a large action shot with a small cameo portrait at the bottom right.

 

#6 A&B) 1984 Fleer Update Roger Clemens (#U27, $75) & Kirby Puckett (#U93, $75) – This was the first time a competing company had taken the Topps idea of issuing a supplemental set a the end of the season…Fleer tested the market with a limited production run and caught lighting in a bottle with the first cards of two legendary players…all their other rookie cards are from 1985. Dwight Gooden’s rookie card from this set (#U43, $35) is also gaining traction due to scarcity.

 

#7) 1985 Topps Mark McGwire (#401, $10) – Even though “Big Mac” wasn’t really a rookie until 1987, this set included the 1984 USA Olympic Baseball Team, so it is McGwire’s first standard issue card…other members of the team who eventually made the “show” included Shane Mack, Oddibe McDowell, Cory Snyder and Billy Swift. In the late 90’s, this was the hottest card in the hobby.

 

#8) 1981 Topps Traded Tim Raines (#816, $20) – After finally making the Hall of Fame, the cardboard value of the 2nd best lead-off hitter in history is starting to climb.

 

#9) 1987 Donruss Greg Maddux (#36, $4) – The beautiful black-bordered rookie card of the legendary Pitcher and 300-game winner. Over-production, not lack of popularity, impacts the value.

 

#10 A&B) 1983 Topps Wade Boggs (#498, $12) & Ryne Sandberg (#83, $12) – These two great Hall-of-Fame infielders joined Gwynn in this historic set.

 

Some additional rookie cards that didn’t quite make the cut include the ’81 Topps card with both Fernando Valenzuela & Mike Scioscia, the Kirk Gibson card from the same set, Darryl Strawberry from ’83 Topps Traded, Barry Larkin from ’87 Fleer and Randy Johnson out of the ’89 Upper Deck set.

 

Hope your favorite was included…thanks for reading.

71 Reasons I Love Baseball

Hoak

Without trying to sound snobbish or elitist, I always find myself feeling sorry for those who don’t love baseball. Clearly, much of what we love is guided by family and background, but baseball is so engrained in the fabric of America, it is always surprising to meet people who find the game boring or slow. They obviously have never had the opportunity to learn the nuances of the game and can’t  treasure the small moments. For example, even though it includes eight (or more) other players, the battle between pitcher and batter just might be the most direct confrontation in all of team sports…and it happens a couple of hundred times in every game!

 

A while back, I wrote an Internet column with 70 reasons why I love baseball. It was tied somewhat to my 70th birthday, so now that I’m 71, we’ll add one more and put it at the beginning of the list.

 

So, as an homage to the game, here are some of my personal reasons why it has meant so much to me over the years.

 

71) Doing what we’re doing today (talking baseball with real fans) never gets old. We can reminisce about our childhood, debate the Hall of Fame, argue about the DH and laugh all the way through. In the movie “City Slickers”, Billy Crystal and the guys are sitting around the campfire when the one girl in the group says, “No, I like baseball. I just never understood how you guys can spend so much time discussing it. I mean I think the game is great but I don’t memorize who played 3B for Pittsburgh in 1960”.  At that point, all the guys simultaneously yelled “Don Hoak”.

 

1) I can still remember going to the park on Sunday morning to (with apologies to Kevin Costner) “play catch” with my Dad.

 

2) Even though I’ve never been to the “Louvre”, it’s difficult to imagine any piece of art more beautiful than Ted Williams’ swing.

 

3) Booing the Yankees is something you can do at any age.

 

4) My brain still has a clear snapshot of that grand-slam home run I hit in Little League…to the opposite field!

 

5) Before the days of MLB Network, ESPN and instant replay, Jimmy Piersall was making spectacular catches in the outfield every night…and he didn’t have to make an unnecessary dive to get himself on a highlight reel.

 

6) Even as a kid, I realized that Mickey Mantle’s skills were different than those of other players.

 

7) 60+ years ago, I watched on TV as Don Larsen pitched a perfect game in the World Series…it hasn’t happened again since.

 

8) Instead of doing homework, I was reading every available baseball book or magazine to learn the history of the game…Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Ty Cobb and so many others comprised my history lessons.

 

9) It was a privilege listening to Vin Scully for over 60 years.

 

10) The aroma of the bubble gum in a nickel pack of Topps baseball cards should be bottled as a women’s cologne…men could never resist.

 

11) Talking baseball with the fan next to you in the stands has nothing to do with race, religion, politics, age or sexual identity.

 

12) How can you not love names like Monbouquette, Throneberry, Pagliaroni, Berberet, Pumpsie & Pinky?

 

13) You’ll always be that 9 year-old boy who cried when Harry Agganis died at age 26.

 

14) There’s no such thing as a bad seat at the ballpark…only better or worse.

 

15) A fan will gladly ruin a $50 pair of pants to catch a $12 baseball…and then give it to a kid!

 

16) Getting your first autograph from a major league player is a moment you’ll never forget.

 

17) In your mind’s eye, you can still see that catch Willie Mays made in the 1954 World Series.

 

18) You know the link between Yogi Berra, Sandy Amoros & Johnny Podres.

 

19) You can almost imagine the trepidation of a right-handed hitter digging in against Don Drysdale or Bob Gibson.

 

20) On a beautiful Summer evening at the old Wrigley Field in Los Angeles, I got to see “Big Klu” in his final season and “Yaz” in his rookie year.

 

21) The Pitcher can’t “take a knee” with two outs in the 9th inning so the clock can run out. In other words, “the game ain’t over ’til it’s over”.

 

22) As you’re scanning through the channels and “Bull Durham” appears, you’ll stop and watch to verify that candlesticks are always a nice gift.

 

23) You realize that Jackie Robinson was so much more than just a ballplayer.

 

24) Occasionally, you actually understood what Casey Stengel was saying.

 

25) Even Red Sox fans get teary-eyed watching Gary Cooper making that speech in “Pride of the Yankees”.

 

26) You celebrate Bobby Thomson but also feel empathy for Ralph Branca.

 

27) You’re fairly sure that the subway grate scene in “The Seven Year Itch” was the beginning of the end for Marilyn Monroe & Joe DiMaggio.

 

28) The sadness of hearing names like Fred Merkle, Mickey Owen, Bill Buckner & Steve Bartman is still part of the game.

 

29) You still laugh every time Bob Uecker explains that the proper way to catch a knuckleball is to “wait for it to stop rolling and then pick it up”.

 

30) You know that Mordecai Brown only had three fingers, while Antonio Alfonseca had six.

 

31) You consider Fenway Park & Wrigley Field to be national shrines.

 

32) You are aware of the fact that Joe Jackson was shoeless and Jay Dean was dizzy.

 

33) It is no secret to you that Lou Boudreau invented defensive shifting over 65 years ago.

 

34) You know who “Scooter” was and that he said “Holy Cow” when Roger Maris hit home run #61.

 

35) The class and style of Sandy Koufax has never been duplicated.

 

36) The nickname “Charlie Hustle” was perfect for Pete Rose.

 

37) Hearing the crowd encouraging Maury Wills to steal 2B was like feeling electricity in the ballpark.

 

38) Meeting a Hall of Fame player is exciting, but when you reach the front of an autograph line and Warren Spahn looks at you and says, “Would you mind if I went to take a leak”, it’s a priceless baseball moment.

 

39) Going to a collectibles convention and finding out that Ernie Banks is the nicest athlete you’ve ever met, confirms your faith in mankind.

 

40) Eddie Gaedel wore the uniform number 1/8.

 

41) You got to attend a game at Camden Yards when Cal Ripken Jr. hit a home run.

 

42) Harmon Killebrew was a “bonus baby” and you know what that means.

 

43) You clearly understand the stupidity of any baserunner who tried to go from 1B to 3B when Roberto Clemente was playing RF.

 

44) Satchel Paige pitched three scoreless innings for the A’s in his final appearance at the age of 59.

 

45) Carlton Fisk’s home run in the 1975 World Series is a landmark in the televising of baseball and changed our expectation of what we should see when watching a game.

 

46) Bucky Dent has a middle name and it starts with the letter “F”.

 

47) Mark “The Bird” Fidrych had the cleanest pitching rubber in the history of the game.

 

48) Rich was a “Goose”, Ron was a “Penguin”, Jim was a “Catfish”, Bill was a “Mad Dog” and Orel was a “Bulldog”.

 

49) The unique experience called “Fernandomania” was impossible to explain to anyone who wasn’t there at the time.

 

50) You remember where you were when Kirk Gibson hit that home run off Dennis Eckersley.

 

51) You went to the ballpark knowing that George Brett had 2,996 hits and then he went 4-for-4.

 

52) Sitting behind home plate in March watching the veterans shape up and the youngsters trying to impress, makes an adult feel like a kid again.

 

53) If you build it, they will come.

 

54) No matter how good the reviews, you will never go see the Broadway show “No, No Nanette”.

 

55) Only one major league player (Fernando Tatis) has ever hit two grand-slam home runs in the same inning and he did it against a pitcher (Chan Ho Park) who was on your Fantasy team.

 

56) You always loved hearing Harry Carey trying to pronounce “Grudzielanek”.

 

57) You secretly hoped that Bo Jackson would strike out at least once just so he could break the bat across his leg.

 

58) “The Bender”, “The Hook”, “Uncle Charlie”, “The Yellow Hammer”, “The Yakker” & “The Deuce” all mean the same thing….baseball has a language of its own.

 

59) A Hall of Fame player can be 5′ 8″ or 6′ 5″.

 

60) Wearing the same protective cup for your entire career is an accepted practice…so is wearing mismatched socks, eating chicken before every game, covering your batting helmet with tar, jumping over the foul-line and breaking a slump by dating ugly women.

 

61) You can be “Old School” and still belong to SABR.

 

62) Each day you go to the ballpark, there’s a chance to witness sports history.

 

63) We live and die with our team every day…and tomorrow is a new day with another chance. “We won a game yesterday. If we win one today, that’ll be two in a row. Then, when we win tomorrow, it’ll be a winning streak”. Isn’t that what life is all about?

 

64) James Earl Jones’ character in “Field of Dreams” told us that “the one constant through the years has been baseball” and he was correct. When you meet someone born in the 60’s and he or she knows why the numbers 56 & .406 relate to 1941, you begin to understand the impact of the game’s history.

 

65) A game where the score is 1-0 can be as exciting as a game where the score is 10-9.

 

66) Baseball for real fans in about anticipation…how about a 3-2 pitch with two outs and the bases loaded? Or a runner on first trying to steal 2B in a tie game? Or an outfielder gliding back toward the fence for a long drive off the bat?

 

67)  As Humphrey Bogart once said, “A hot dog at the game beats roast beef at the Ritz”.

 

68) The game is all about family…just look around the ballpark.

 

69) Looking through a set of baseball cards from the 1950’s gives you a wonderful history lesson that tells you the identities of Dusty, Duke, Red, Minnie, Puddin’ Head, Spook, Smoky, Suitcase, Pee Wee, Junior & Rube.

 

70) When I got divorced, I really missed my Springer Spaniels…but I still had baseball.

 

Everyone reading this probably has dozens more of their own…thanks for sticking with me until the end.

 

 

 

Single Digit Uniformity

Mantle Bowman RC PSA

As kids, we all had a favorite baseball player and even though we may not have known everything about him, we certainly had a firm grasp on his uniform number. In the 50’s, if Ted Kluszewski was your guy, you knew that his sleeveless Cincinnati Reds Jersey had #18 on the back. If Pete Rose was your idol in the 60’s & 70’s, it was a pretty good bet that #14 was on the back of your Little League jersey. Thanks to MLB, we all know that Jackie Robinson wore #42, while the younger fans might covet Mike Trout’s #27 or Bryce Harper’s #34.

 

Uniform numbers weren’t really utilized in Major League Baseball until the 1929 season. The Indians & Yankees were the first two teams to make the decision and other teams eventually came around to the idea during the 1930’s with the Philadelphia Athletics being the last hold-out until 1937. The idea was so much of an afterthought, the numbers were originally assigned by the batting order (1-8) of the teams. #9 would be given to the back-up Catcher and the starting pitchers wore numbers 10-14, not including the bad luck #13.

 

Today, we’ll look at the best players who wore a single digit number on the back of their uniform and what it might take to collect all of their rookie (or early) baseball cards. As always, the values are based on a card in “Near Mint” (NM 7) condition.

 

> #0 Al Oliver – It is a slight stretch to include this one on our list because the player was really wearing the letter “O” on his back rather than a zero. An outstanding hitter in his day, Oliver wore the number from 1978 until his retirement after the 1985 season. In 18 seasons, he hit .303 and accumulated over 2,700 hits. He shares his rookie card with Richie Hebner in the 1969 Topps set and you can find it for about $10.

 

> #1 Ozzie Smith – This Hall-of-Fame Shortstop known as “The Wizard” wore the number for his entire 19-year career…first with the Padres and then with the Cardinals. His rookie card from the 1979 Topps set is difficult to find in nice condition due to quality-control issues and will set you back at least $75.

 

> #2 Derek Jeter – The first Yankee to wear this number (in 1929) was Outfielder Mark Koenig. Jeter’s 3,000+ hits and multiple World Series rings makes him a first ballot Hall-of-Famer when he becomes eligible. A number of his rookie cards from 1993 can be had in the $10-$20 range but the more scarce one from the SP set is valued at almost $200.

 

> #3 Babe Ruth – “The Bambino”, “The Sultan of Swat” and the most legendary player of all time. His career statistics, as a Pitcher and a Hitter, are mind-boggling. His actual rookie card from the 1916 Sporting News set would cost you the price of a decent house,  but a more mainstream one from the 1933 Goudey set is only worth $25,000.

 

> #4 Lou Gehrig – “The Iron Horse” hit behind the Babe in the Yankee line-up and will forever be remembered for his consecutive game streak and the tragic illness that took him much too early in life. If you’ve never seen “Pride of the Yankees” (1942) starring Gary Cooper, you can’t really call yourself a true baseball fan.  There are some obscure Gehrig cards from the 1920’s but the 1932 U.S. Caramel version can be had for around $6,000.

 

> #5 Joe DiMaggio – “Joltin Joe”, “The Yankee Clipper” and a hero to Simon & Garfunkel, this CF will always be legendary due to his 56-game hitting streak, three MVP awards, 10 World Series appearances and marriage to Marilyn Monroe. He only played 13 seasons due to three years serving in the military during World War II, but his .977 lifetime OPS tells the story. The 1938 Goudey set has two Joe D. cards and they’re worth about $5,000 each.

 

> #6 Stan Musial – Arguably, the most under-appreciated player ever, “Stan The Man” wore this number for his entire 22-year career with the Cardinals. A lifetime batting average of .331 and over 3,600 hits gives some perspective on his career. His rookie card is in the 1948 Bowman set and books for $1,500.

 

> #7 Mickey Mantle – “The Mick” actually wore #6 in his 1951 rookie season, but became synonymous with #7 in baseball lore. One of the great natural talents to ever play the game, his three MVP awards in the 50’s & 60’s only touch the surface of his impact on the game. His rookie card from 1951 Bowman is valued at over $30,000 but the second-year card from the iconic 1952 Topps set can be yours if you’re willing sell your house for $170,000.

 

> #8 Cal Ripken Jr. – “The Iron Man” wore this number for 21 seasons with the Orioles and his 2,632 consecutive game streak eclipsed Gehrig’s record. Rookie of the Year in 1982, two MVP’s and 19 straight All-Star games prove his consistency. His 1982 Topps Traded rookie card is about $60.

 

> #9 Ted Williams – “The Kid’, “Teddy Ballgame” and “The Splendid Splinter”, he was the greatest hitter of all time. Missed five full seasons in his prime due to military service and still hit 521 Home Runs. The last player to hit .400, his lifetime OPS of 1.116 is 2nd only to Ruth. His rookie card from the 1939 Play Ball set is valued at around $5,000.

 

There are certainly valid arguments on some of these numbers. Harmon Killebrew is a great runner-up on #3, as is Duke Snider at #4. Some may feel that Al Kaline gives Musial a run for his money at #6 and Carl Yastrzemski, Yogi Berra & Joe Morgan all wore #8.

 

Down the road, we’ll look at more uniform numbers and the stars who made them famous.