One of the few drawbacks of being a Fantasy Baseball player is the difficult task of setting aside your childhood team loyalty. If you’re a true baseball fan and grew up watching the game, separating player analysis from your rooting interest is never easy. If you find yourself drafting too many Yankees (or Twins or Dodgers) each Spring, this concept is crystal clear.
While there are suffering fans of numerous franchises that haven’t appeared in the World Series for over 30 years such as the Pirates, Brewers & Orioles, my personal history had a 50-year drought with the Red Sox. Growing up in a suburb of Boston in the 1950’s, Fenway Park was only a nickel street-car ride and a $1 bleacher seat away for an afternoon game. And then there were those special times when my Uncle would invite me to sit with him in the box seats a few rows behind the Sox dugout. From either vantage point, there was the unique opportunity to see the Yankees beat the crap out of my beloved team on a regular basis.
Even after moving to California in the early 60’s, I still suffered when they lost in seven games to the Cardinals in ’67, then lost again in seven games to Reds in ’75 and finally, the brutal heartbreak of the ’86 loss to the Mets. Of course, they made the post-season a number of time in the 80’s & 90’s but it seemed like their destiny was always sealed. In 2003, when Aaron “Frickin” Boone joined Bucky “Frickin” Dent in the annals of the rivalry, it just added to the pain.
Watching the Yankees take a 3-0 lead in the 2004 ALCS by scoring 19 runs off six Sox pitchers in game three, it seemed like another chapter in the same sad book. Then it happened! The sun came out from behind the clouds, the birds began to sing, the bloody sock wasn’t washed and the BoSox beat the Yankees four consecutive times to move on to the Fall Classic. When the Red Sox swept the Cardinals in the World Series, not only did they remove the “Curse of the Bambino”, they also eliminated the 50-year “Drought of the Drook”. Now, with three titles in the last fourteen years and a great team this season, fans can hold their heads high and no longer wallow in their own grief.
So with your indulgence, we’ll take a look back at those Red Sox of my childhood and put together a collection of rookie cards to commemorate their futile efforts. Every year’s baseball team has unique stories and we’ll focus on the rosters for 1955 – 1957. These three squads were 40 games over .500 but never finished better than 3rd in the AL behind the pennant-winning Yankees.
> Ted Williams, LF – The story never gets old…a young man from an impoverished background becomes the greatest hitter in the history of the game, misses five seasons in the prime of his career serving the country in war and hits a Home Run in his final at-bat. His rookie card is from 1939 Play Ball (#92) and in “Excellent” (EX 5) condition, has a value of $2,200.
> Jim Piersall, CF – One of the most colorful players of the era, he was a Gold Glove outfielder. Overcame emotional issues early in his career to become a 17-year major leaguer. His biography, “Fear Strikes Out” was made into a 1957 movie starring Anthony Perkins as Piersall and Karl Malden as his Father. His 1951 Bowman card (#306) in “Near Mint” (NM 7) condition books for $130.
> Jackie Jensen, RF – An All-American Running Back at the University of California in 1948, he left college after his Junior year to play professional baseball. A power-hitting right-handed batter, he led the AL in RBI’s three times in the 1950’s and won the ’58 AL MVP, but never overcame his fear of flying. He retired prior to the 1960 season, then came back and played in ’61 before retiring again. His rookie card is also from the 1951 Bowman set (#254) and is valued at $120 in “NM” condition.
> Billy Goodman, 2B – This lanky infielder was a lifetime .300 hitter over 16 years and won the AL Batting Title in 1950 with a .354 average. His rookie card is a shortprint in the 1948 Leaf set (#30) and one in “EX” condition will set you back $350.
> Harry Agganis, 1B – In today’s Internet and 24-hour sports age, this would be a famous story but only New Englanders of a certain age know the tragic tale. Known as the “Golden Greek”, Agganis was a local boy who became the first All-American football player at Boston University in 1952. He passed up a chance to play for the NFL Cleveland Browns to pursue professional baseball with the hometown Red Sox. After a solid rookie season in ’54, he was one of the most popular players on the team. In early June of ’55, he was hospitalized with pneumonia, but probably returned to the line-up too soon and played only two more games before becoming ill again. On June 27th, he suffered a fatal pulmonary embolism at age 26. To understand the impact on the community, ten thousand mourners attended the wake. His only baseball card is from the 1955 Topps set (#152) and a “NM” version is valued at $125.
> Frank Malzone, 3B – He served two years in the military before starting his professional baseball career in 1954. Had over 100 RBI’s in his 1957 rookie season and finished 2nd to Tony Kubek in the Rookie of the Year balloting. A wizard at the hot corner, he won the Gold Glove in ’57, ’58 & ’59 in addition to being a six-time All Star. His 1955 Bowman card (#302) is worth $45 in “NM” condition.
In my mind’s eye, I can still see these players trotting out to their positions while the mustard from my “Fenway Frank” drips on my shirt. Along with Pitchers like Tom Brewer, Frank Sullivan, Mel Parnell, Ike Delock & Ellis Kinder, they will always be a part of my childhood. Hope you have the same affection for your team.