In A Vintage State Of Mind

'53 Connelly

The four beautiful golf courses in my community have a set of tees slightly shorter in distance than the regular (white) tees. They are gold in color (maybe referring to the golden years?) and are called the “Vintage” tees. At this stage of my life, I’m proud to play from those tees and the name seems much more palatable than “Senior” tees.

 

Another reason for my positive attitude is the fact that I’m a collector and fan of vintage baseball cards. There is some difference of opinion as to where the line is drawn between vintage and modern (maybe around 1975) but there’s no question that cards from the 50’s & 60’s fall into the vintage category. Each time I purchase a collection with cards from this era, it brings a flood of baseball memories that go back to my childhood.

 

Last week, a collection came across my desk that included 100+ cards from the 1953 Topps set. They weren’t in great condition (then again, neither am I) but nostalgia isn’t based on a card being pristine. Even though the first Topps set in 1952 is more famous, there may not be a more beautiful card format than the ’53’s. Instead of photographs, the players are depicted by a beautiful line drawing in full color that makes every card a work of art. The set includes many famous players like Mickey Mantle & Willie Mays but also 272 other players who made their mark on the game. If you’re a vintage fan, the names will be familiar…if you’re a younger fan, consider it a history lesson. Let’s look at who we found in this magic box.

 

> Monte Irvin (#62), Giants OF – Played with the Newark Eagles of the Negro Leagues from 1938-1948 before joining the Giants in ’49. Led the NL with 121 RBI’s in ’51 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1973.

 

> Dick Williams (#125), Dodgers OF – Managed for 21 seasons and won two World Series titles with the A’s in the early 70’s.

 

> Allie Reynolds (#141), Yankees P – Nicknamed “The Chief” due to his Native American heritage, he was a mainstay of the Yanks rotation in the 50’s.

 

> Satchel Paige (#220), Browns P – Arguably the most famous player in the Negro Leagues, he didn’t get to the majors until 1948 at age 41.

 

> John Podres (#263), Dodgers P – This is the rookie card of the man who beat the Yankees in the 7th game of the 1955 World Series.

 

> Joe Nuxhall (#105), Reds P – The youngest player to ever appear in a major league game, he was a 15 year-old High School phenom who pitched in one game in 1944. Eventually became the Reds long-time broadcaster with the nickname of the “Ol’ Lefthander”.

 

> Vic Wertz (#142), Browns OF – One year later, he hit the ball that Willie Mays tracked down in the ’54 Series.

 

> Ferris Fain (#24), Athletics 1B – Was the AL batting champion in both 1951 (.344) & 1952 (.327).

 

> John Sain (#119), Yankees P – When he and Warren Spahn each won 21 games for the Braves in 1947 (and no other pitcher won more than 11), the fans said, “Spahn & Sain and pray for rain”.

 

> Pete Runnels (#219), Senators SS – Won two AL batting titles with the Red Sox in 1960 (.320) & 1962 (.326).

 

> Willie Jones (#88), Phillies 3B – Most remembered for his nickname…”Puddin’ Head”.

 

> Sibby Sisti (#124), Braves IF – His given name was Sebastian and he played 13 seasons as a utility player with the Braves in Boston & Milwaukee. The next time you watch “The Natural” and see the Pirates Manager go the mound, that is Sibby Sisti.

 

> Mike Garcia (#75), Indians P – A member of that great Tribe rotation in the 50’s that included Early Wynn, Bob Lemon & Bob Feller.

 

How about some of the great nicknames of that era…

 

> Virgil “Fire” Trucks

> “Rip” Repulski

> Wilmer “Vinegar Bend” Mizell

> Harry “Peanuts” Lowery

> “Jungle” Jim Rivera

> Ewell “The Whip” Blackwell

> Harry “Suitcase” Simpson

> “Sad” Sam Jones

> “Dixie” Howell

 

They’re all in the box along with a bunch of players you’ve never heard of…

 

> Gus Niarhos

> Don Kolloway

> Art Schult

> Earl Harrist

> Cliff Fannin

> Connie Marrero

> Keith Thomas

> Bill Connelly

> Tommy Glaviano

> Dave Madison

 

It never gets old having baseball history in your hands.

 

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Say What?

Harper Clown

There is little doubt that there are more golf jokes than in any other sport. After all, even the throw-away lines are funny because when you ask a golfer how he’s been playing lately and he replies, “My game has improved dramatically since I had my ball retriever re-gripped”, you can’t help but laugh.

 

When it comes to quotes however, baseball will always be at the pinnacle. Maybe it has to do with over 150 years of history or the fact that every American youth is exposed to the sport at an early age and understands the basics of the game. For us die-hard fans, we’d probably like to think that it’s the result of the great characters who have captured our imagination over a lifetime. So, for today’s visit, we’ll look at some of the great quotes of the game and hope they bring a smile, cause an outright guffaw or put a quizzical look on your face.

 

> On hearing that Reggie Jackson was reported to have an IQ of 165, Yankee teammate Mickey Rivers snidely replied, “Out of what – a thousand?”

 

> “He’s got power enough to hit home runs in any park, including Yellowstone.” – Sparky Anderson on Willie Stargell

 

> “I gave (pitcher) Mike Cuellar more chances than I gave my first wife.” – Earl Weaver

 

> “Hating the Yankees is as American as apple pie, unwed mothers and cheating on your income tax.” – Mike Royko, Chicago newspaper columnist

 

> “Ninety feet between home plate and first base may be the closest man has ever come to perfection.” – Red Smith, sportswriter

 

> “There are two theories on hitting the knuckleball. Unfortunately, neither of them work.” – Charlie Lau, hitting coach

 

> “Baseball is ninety percent mental and the other half is physical.” – Yogi Berra

 

> “For the parents of a Little Leaguer, a baseball game is simply a nervous breakdown divided into nine innings.” – Earl Wilson, former pitcher

 

> “Good pitching will beat good hitting anytime, and vice versa.” – Bob Veale, former pitcher

 

> “The designated hitter rule is like letting someone else take Wilt Chamberlain’s free throws.” – Rick Wise, former pitcher

 

> “Trying to sneak a pitch past Hank Aaron is like trying to sneak a sunrise past a rooster.” – Curt Simmons, former pitcher

 

> “In a way, an umpire is like a woman. He makes quick decisions, never reverses them, and doesn’t think you’re safe when you’re out.” – Larry Goetz, former umpire

 

> “You never save a pitcher for tomorrow. Tomorrow it may rain.” – Leo Durocher

 

> “A good cigar is like a beautiful chick with a great body who also knows the American League box scores.” – Klinger (from M*A*S*H*)

 

> “I never threw an illegal pitch. The trouble is, once in a while I toss one that ain’t never been seen by this generation.” – Satchel Paige

 

> “Baseball is like a poker game, nobody wants to quit when he’s losing: nobody wants you to quit when you’re ahead.” – Jackie Robinson

 

> “The difference between the old ballplayer and the new ballplayer is the jersey. The old ballplayer cared about the name on the front. The new ballplayer cares about the name on the back.” – Steve Garvey

 

> “Baseball must be a great game to survive the fools who run it.” – Bill Terry

 

> “Baseball gives every American boy a chance to excel, not just to be as good as someone else but to be better than someone else. This is the nature of man and the name of the game.” – Ted Williams

 

> “If a woman has to choose between catching a fly ball and saving an infant’s life, she will choose to save the infant’s life without even considering if there are men on base.” – Dave Barry, humorist

 

“You can’t sweep a series if you don’t win the first game, and it’s tougher to win two out of three if you lose the first one.” – Todd Helton

 

> “Willie Mays’ glove is where triples go to die.” – Jim Murray, newspaper columnist

 

> “The key to being a good manager is keeping the people who hate me away from those who are still undecided.” – Casey Stengel

 

> “The way to make coaches think you’re in shape in the Spring is to get a tan.” – Whitey Ford

 

> “I watch a lot of baseball on radio.” – Gerald Ford

 

> “I never took the game home with me. I always left it in some bar.” – Bob Lemon

 

> “All I remember about my wedding day in 1967 is that the Cubs lost a doubleheader.” – George Will, author

 

> “A hot dog at the game beats roast beef at the Ritz.” – Humphrey Bogart

 

> “He looks like a greyhound but he runs like a bus.” – George Brett on teammate Jamie Quirk

 

> “If Mike Scioscia was in a race with a pregnant woman, he’d finish third.” – Tommy Lasorda

 

> Asked what it feels like to be the shortest player in the major leagues, 5′ 4″ Freddie Patek replied, “A heckuva lot better than being the shortest player in the minor leagues.”

 

> “Andre Dawson has a bruised knee and is listed as day-to-day…Aren’t we all?” – Vin Scully

 

> “He once asked me if Beirut was named after that famous baseball player who hit home runs.” – High School Teacher

 

> Veteran Pitcher Roger McDowell on taking a rookie under his wing – “I have to go to all the places he can’t, to make sure he isn’t there.”

 

> In 1995, during the strike, a replacement pitcher who hadn’t pitched professionally in nine years had a terrible outing. Pirates broadcaster Steve Blass said, “He should have been better, pitching on 3,195 days’ rest.”

 

> “Aw, c’mon, how could he lose a ball in the sun? He’s from Mexico.” – Harry Carey

 

Needless to say, we’ve just touched the surface of this glorious topic and if you’re wondering if we’ll revisit it in the future, think of the Bryce Harper quote – “That’s a clown question, bro”.

 

 

The Dual Collection

Connors '52

The recent passing of Gene Conley at age 86, brought to mind that the era of dual-sport baseball players has essentially come to an end. In today’s society, young athletes begin to be groomed as soon as their talent is discovered and every resource is utilized to mold them into a professional making millions of dollars. No longer does the best player on the High School baseball team also play basketball & football…he’s concentrating on one sport year-round with travel teams, personal trainers and the beginnings of an entourage.

 

Today’s challenge will be to put together a collection of baseball rookie cards from the modern era showcasing those dual-sport stars that were sprinkled throughout the landscape of professional sports starting in the 1950’s. As a tribute, we’ll begin with the big guy who was born in Muskogee, Oklahoma in 1930.

 

> Gene Conley – This 6’8″ right-hander made his debut with the Braves in 1952 and was named to three All-Star teams in that decade. During the same era, he was also a Power Forward in the NBA and won three championship rings with the Boston Celtics. His RC is from the ’53 Topps set and books for $15.

 

> Dick Groat – An outstanding SS in the major leagues for 14 seasons, he won the NL MVP in 1960 for the World Series champion Pirates. An All-American, 5′ 11″ Point Guard at Duke, he also played one year in the NBA with the Ft. Wayne Pistons. His RC is from the high-numbered run of the iconic ’52 Topps set is priced at $350.

 

> Dick Ricketts – Played three seasons in the NBA as a Power Forward before switching over the baseball and spending one season with the Cardinals in 1959. His Brother Dave was a major league Catcher in the 60’s. The baseball RC is in the ’59 Topps set with a value $3 but his basketball RC from ’57 Topps will set you back $20.

 

> Steve Hamilton – A 6’6” left-hander, he pitched in the show for 12 years with a lifetime ERA of 3.05. Before that, he played two seasons as a Small Forward for the Minneapolis Lakers just before they moved to L.A. $2 will get you his RC from the ’63 Topps set.

 

> Dave DeBusschere – Pitched for the White Sox in ’62 & ’63 but his real fame came on the basketball court. In 13 NBA seasons as a 6’6” Forward, he averaged over 16 points per game…he was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1983. His RC in the ’63 Topps set books for $3. The basketball RC from ’69 Topps is worth $15.

 

> Ron Reed – Pitched for 19 seasons (1966-84) and won 146 games including 18 for the Braves in ’69. At 6’6′, this Notre Dame product also played Forward with the Detroit Pistons for two years in the mid-60’s. The RC from ’68 Topps will only cost you $2.

 

> Danny Ainge – Another athlete who had more success at basketball, he played three seasons with the Blue Jays with a lifetime BA of .220. At 6’4″, he became a valuable member of the Celtics during their great championship runs in the 80’s and today, he is the team’s highly-respected General Manager. $2 will purchase the RC from ’81 Topps.

 

> Bo Jackson – Arguably, the best all-around player in this category, it was a “must watch” moment every time he stepped on the field. Won the Heisman Trophy as a running back at Auburn and took those skills to the NFL for an amazing four-year run with the Raiders before a hip injury ended it all. On the baseball diamond, he displayed similar skills and led off the 1989 All-Star Game with a mammoth home run. An ’86 Topps RC is only $2.

 

> Deion Sanders – One of the greatest defensive backs in NFL history, people sometimes forget that he played in the major leagues for nine seasons, leading the NL with 14 Triples in 1992 and stealing 38 bases in 1994. The ’89 RC’s have very little value due to the overproduction of that time, but the football RC from ’89 Score is about $5.

 

> Brian Jordan – Had a very solid 15-year major league career from 1992-2006 with 184 HR’s and a .282 lifetime BA. Also played defensive back for the Falcons from 1989-1991. The ’92 Bowman set has his RC and the price is $1.

 

> Chuck Connors – This name may sound familiar if you’re a fan of vintage TV Westerns, as he was the star of “The Rifleman” from 1958-63. What most people don’t know is that he’s a member of this exclusive club. He got one AB with the 1949 Brooklyn Dodgers and then played 66 games with the ’51 Cubs hitting .238 with two HR’s. Just prior to that, he played two seasons for the Celtics in the infancy of the NBA. While he never had a major league baseball card, you may be able to find a 1952 AAA card produced by Mother’s Cookies showing the lanky 6’5″ 1B in a L.A. Angels uniform. Due to his celebrity status, it will probably cost hundreds of dollars.

 

There are many interesting tidbits in this category including former big league Pitcher John Burkett bowling on the PBA tour and Hall of Fame Pitcher Bob Gibson spending one season with the Harlem Globetrotters. And if you expand the group to college stars, you’ll have to include Darin Erstad, Steve Garvey, Kirk Gibson, Tony Gwynn (drafted by the Clippers & Padres on the same day), Frank Howard, Jackie Jensen, Jackie Robinson, Jeff Samardzija and others.

 

And, let’s not forget those of you who can watch sports and consume mass quantities at the same time.

Analyzing the DIPS

'17 Samard

For all long as kids have looked at the back of baseball cards, they’ve had a general understanding of ERA (Earned Run Average). If you look up the definition, the general consensus is “A measure of a pitcher’s performance by dividing the total earned runs allowed by the total of innings pitched and multiplying by nine”. My baseball education taught that it was earned runs multiplied by nine, divided by innings pitched but the numbers come out the same. The premise of the statistic was to not burden a pitcher with runs that had been enabled by errors or passed balls. In other words, eliminating from the calculation events that were out of his control.

 

If you’ve watched enough baseball to give the definition a personal “eye test”, you already know that numerous runs score in a game that don’t necessarily fit the criteria. If a pitcher leaves the game with the bases loaded (through hits & walks) and the relief pitcher gives up a triple, the original hurler just gave up three earned runs while he was sitting in the dugout. If there are runners on 2B & 3B with two outs and a weak groundball trickles under the glove of the shortstop into left field, two earned runs score whether the fielder in question was Ozzie Smith or Dale Berra. Outcomes like these are what motivate the development of advanced baseball statistics.

 

In an attempt to move beyond ERA, we now have a stat called DIPS (Defensive Independent Pitching). The essential theory is that pitchers can only really control strikeouts, walks, hit batters and home runs allowed. To that end, analysts have come up with a formula to build pitching statistics that isolate pitcher performance. Once that number is calculated, they tie it to MLB’s run scoring environment so that it aligns with ERA.

 

The question for those of us playing Fantasy Baseball is if the DIPS numbers can assist in determining the value and predictability of pitchers. Many a team has been torpedoed by a couple of starting pitchers that didn’t perform to expectations and we’re always looking for an edge. As a 20+ year fantasy veteran has said many times, “I hate Pitchers”. Just taking a superficial look at DIPS results for the first half of the 2017 season reveals the following tidbits (stats through 7/1).

 

> In the AL this season, 8 of the top 10 starting pitchers on the DIPS list are also on the top ten ERA list. Looking somewhat deeper, however, we find that ERA leader Jason Vargas (at 2.22) is 7th on the DIPS chart with 3.56. The second half may show some regression for the Royals ace. (Note – This was written before his blow-up on Wednesday)

 

> Two AL starters seem be having some bad luck in the first half. Chris Archer of the Rays is 6th in DIPS at 3.09 but has a 3.92 ERA. Even more significant is the differential for reigning Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello. He’s 10th in DIPS at 3.84 but has an ERA of 5.06!

 

> On the flip side in the AL are two over-achievers. Marcus Stroman of the Jays is 9th in ERA at 3.41 but his DIPS figure of 3.94 is more than half a run higher. The Twins Ervin Santana has been even more fortunate with a #5 ERA ranking of 3.07 but a DIPS number of 4.70.

 

> In the NL, six of the top ten ERA leaders also show up on the top ten DIPS list. Max Scherzer of the Nats is first on both lists with Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers close behind with the #2 ERA and #3 DIPS. The numbers also confirm that the D’Backs’ Zack Greinke’s return to form is for real with the #7 ERA and #4 DIPS.

 

> Tough luck NL starters include Stephen Strasburg of the Nats with a 3.51 ERA and a 3.01 DIPS while Jeff Samardzija of the Giants wins the “don’t buy a lottery ticket today” award with the 7th best DIPS figure in the league at 3.30 compared to his 4.63 ERA.

 

> NL Pitchers who can thank their lucky stars so far are Gio Gonzalez of the Nats with the 3rd best ERA of 2.77 but a DIPS of 4.10 along with Mike Leake of the Cards, Robbie Ray of the D’Backs and Ivan Nova of the Bucs. Those last three all have ERA’s more than a half run lower than their DIPS number.

 

> Some pundits seem to think that Carlos Martinez of the Redbirds is a disappointment because he’s 6-6. The truth is that he’s penalized by expectations and his 2.88 ERA (4th) and 3.27 DIPS (5th) tell the real story.

 

As always, Fantasy success comes from balance, both on your team and in your scouting, so maybe DIPS has a place in your toolbox. The numbers are easily found on ESPN.com under “Sabermetric Pitching Stats”. So, the next time one of your baseball buddies asks how you are, you can reply, “I’m feeling much better now that I’m monitoring my DIPS”.

 

 

 

 

Collecting Memories

'62 Tuttle

If you were born in the 40’s or 50’s and grew up as a baseball fan, collecting trading cards was a rite of passage. We chewed the bubble gum, read the backs of the cards, put them in our bicycle wheel spokes and sorted them by number or team. Those childhood memories are stuck in our brain and just like the characters around the campfire in “City Slickers”, we know that Don Hoak was the 3B of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1960.

 

Every time I purchase a vintage (pre-1976) baseball card collection, all of those experiences come flooding back as the first chore is sorting through the cards. Recently, one such collection came my way and included Topps baseball cards from the early 60’s. Even though it was a substantial investment, my approach to being an eBay dealer in these types of items is that it is more of a hobby than a business. As long as the cost isn’t prohibitive and the long-term outcome is at least a break-even proposition, I’m just happy to have a new project. In addition, it always feels good to be the conduit between a seller who has lost interest in cards to a buyer who is adding to their personal collection.

 

Of course, it isn’t quite as easy as buying a card for $5 and selling it for $7. When it comes to 50 year old pieces of cardboard, the key element of the value is condition. With most sales taking place on the Internet, buyers want to know exactly what they’re getting and the only way to guarantee their satisfaction is to have cards graded by a third-party independent company. The grading is done on a scale of 1-to-10 and the outcome can impact the value dramatically. For example, a 1960 Roger Maris All-Star card in “Excellent” (EX 5) condition books for $40, while the same card in “Near-Mint” (NM 7) condition is worth $90. And, honestly, most cards from private collections grade out much lower due to all the decades of wear and tear.

 

So, for dealers like me, the first priority is culling through hundreds of cards to figure out which ones are worth grading (at a cost of $8-$10 per card) based on the player and the estimated condition. In this particular case, over 120 cards were sent to the grading company, which essentially doubled the overall cost of the original purchase. In the next few weeks, we’ll find out the results and then those cards will go up for sale on eBay under the ID of “rotisserieduck”. The cards sent in included the aforementioned Maris along with 1962 cards of Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays & Hank Aaron. From ’64, there are five examples of the beautiful 2nd-year Pete Rose card as well as Sandy Koufax & Roberto Clemente.

 

Now that those cards are in process, phase two of the project is underway. This requires sorting the remaining cards to see if any of the “semi-star” players might meet the criteria for grading or putting together groups of cards in decent raw condition to sell as lots. Some buyers, for example, might like to have a group of players from their favorite team. While most of you might not know the name Don Buddin, he was the Red Sox Shortstop when I was growing up in New England and, yes, I played SS in Little League. Nostalgia is a powerful incentive when it comes to collectibles.

 

As this box with hundreds of 1962 Topps baseball cards sits on the table, it occurred to me that each of us has ties to obscure players. So, maybe a few names and pieces of information about the players on these baseball cards might stir a few memories for some of you.

 

> #65 Bobby Richardson, Yankees 2B – The history of his catch of that line drive off Willie McCovey’s bat in the 7th game of the World Series wouldn’t be written for a few more months.

 

> #203 Jack Fisher, Orioles P – In September of 1960, he gave up Home Run #521 to Ted Williams in the last at-bat of “Teddy Ballgame’s” career.

 

> #167 Tim McCarver, Cardinals C – This is the rookie card of a player who would go on to a memorable broadcasting career.

 

> #97 Tito Francona, Indians OF – A solid major-leaguer for over a decade, his son Terry won two World Series as the Manager of the Red Sox.

 

> #183 Roger Craig, Mets P – The expansion Mets might have been the worst team ever and his record as their “ace” in ’62 was 10-24…went on to be a very successful pitching coach and managed the Giants from 1986-1992.

 

> #63 Tony Cloninger, Braves P – In 1966 during a 17-3 drubbing of the Giants, he hit two Grand Slam Home Runs and had 9 RBI’s.

 

> #160 Dick Stuart, Pirates 1B – Part of the Bucs championship team in 1960…a few years later, Stuart had two outstanding seasons with the Red Sox but his lack of defensive skills and a 1964 hit movie got him the nickname “Dr. Strangeglove.”

 

> #375 Ron Fairly, Dodgers OF – Followed up his playing career by becoming a color man in the Mariners broadcast booth. During one game, he famously said, “Last night I failed to mention something that bears repeating”.

 

> #116 Herb Score, White Sox P – Was the AL Rookie of the Year with the Indians in 1955 and struck out over 500 batters in his first two seasons…he was never the same after being hit in the face by a line drive off the bat of Gil McDougald in ’57.

 

> #407 Hank Aguirre, Tigers P – For fans of the DH, he may have been one of the worst hitting Pitchers in the history of the game…in 16 seasons, he was 33-for-388 (.085 BA) with 236 strikeouts.

 

> #87 Gene Conley, Red Sox P – A 6′ 8″ right-hander who won 91 major league games, he was also part of three NBA championship teams with the Boston Celtics.

 

> #153 Pumpsie Green, Red Sox SS – The BoSox were the last major league team to integrate and he was the player in 1959.

 

> #171 Dave Sisler, Reds P – Most fans know about the Boones and the Bells, but this player was eight years old when his Dad George was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1939.

 

> #209 Jim Fregosi, Angels – The rookie card of this baseball “lifer”, he made six All-Star teams as a member of the Halos but is unfairly most remembered as the player traded for Nolan Ryan.

 

> #298 Bill Tuttle, Twins OF – During the later years of his life, he traveled extensively warning major league players about the dangers of chewing tobacco and his disfigured face (due to surgeries for oral cancer) told the tale…ironically, his ’62 card shows him in the batting cage with a cheek full of chaw.

 

 

Hope your favorite didn’t get left out…he’s probably in the box somewhere.

The Old Prospector

Gurriel

If you’re a fan of a particular team, you’re always gazing toward the farm and hoping the next phenom will make a difference and improve the fortunes of your squad. In our hearts, however, we know that for every successful rookie there are dozens who don’t ever make the grade.

 

The 1954 Topps baseball card set tells the story in a unique fashion as it includes the rookie cards of legends Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks & Al Kaline. It also includes the rookie cards of Bill Taylor, Dave Hoskins, Dick Cole, Thornton Kipper, Mike Fornieles, Jack Harshman, Don Liddle, Curt Roberts, Frank Leja and dozens of others.

 

Thanks to the explosion of Fantasy Baseball and the changing landscape of baseball cards, today’s fan might be interested in prospects beyond the ones on the home-town team. And what collectors really want is a card with the prospect’s autograph that came straight out of a pack. About 15 years ago, the industry re-invented itself by randomly inserting autograph cards into their products. Yes, it made them more expensive but increased the thrill of the chase.

 

The Bowman brand (a product of the Topps Company) is always the leader in prospect autographs. They dig deeper into the minors and look for players the average fan wouldn’t know. If you bought a box of Bowman cards in 2013, you just might have an Aaron Judge autograph card sitting in a box somewhere. For 2017, the three different Bowman products (Bowman, Bowman Chrome & Bowman Draft) will all have a selection of these players. Let’s look at some of the prospects who have signed cards this year…and if you’ve ever heard of them.

 

> Ronald Acuna, Braves OF & #7 Prospect – At age 19, he’s already been promoted to AA where he’s batting over .300

 

> Chance Adams, Yankees P & #7 Prospect – In the rotation at AAA with a 2.43 ERA and 0.93 WHIP

 

> Christian Arroyo, Giants SS & #2 Prospect – Has already seen some MLB time at age 21 and could be their 3B in 2018.

 

> Taylor Clarke, D’Backs P & #5 Prospect – Starting at AA with over a strikeout per inning and an ERA under 3.00

 

> Kyle Funkhouser, Tigers P & #6 Prospect – Has made 12 starts in the minors and has 83 K’s in 62+ IP

 

> Jason Groome, Red Sox P & #2 Prospect – Only 18 years old and the #12 pick in last June’s draft

 

> Lourdes Gurriel, Blue Jays SS – His brother Yuli is the Astros 1B but is 10 years older at age 33…the Cuban defector was just activated from the DL this week in the Florida State League. Last November, the Jays gave him a 7-year contract.

 

> Eloy Jimenez, Cubs OF & #1 Prospect – At age 20, he’s another future star in the Cubs pipeline

 

> Kevin Maitan, Braves SS & #2 Prospect – Hasn’t yet made his pro debut but if you’d really like to feel old, he was born on February 12th, 2000

 

> Triston McKenzie, Indians P & #2 Prospect – Only 19, he’s at A+ and has 91 K’s in 71+ IP

 

> Mickey Moniak, Phillies OF & #2 Prospect – The #1 overall pick in the June ’16 draft

 

> Blake Rutherford, Yankees OF & #3 Prospect – Got over $3 Million as the 18th player chosen in the June ’16 draft

 

> Nick Senzel, Reds 3B & #1 Prospect – The second player taken last June, he’s already batting over .300 in his first pro season

 

> Gleyber Torres, Yankees SS &#1 Prospect – The prize acquired in last year’s Aroldis Chapman deal Despite this week’s elbow surgery, he’s only 20 years old and already has AAA experience.

 

That’s just a taste of the young talent who will have autograph cards in the market…pick your favorite.

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.