This Ethan Allen Made Memories, Not Furniture

All Star Baseball 1959

In the last few years, the Old Duck has made presentations to a number of groups (including SABR) about Fantasy Baseball. As many of the attendees are from the Baby Boomer generation, they need to be reminded that young baseball fans have always played some sort of game that simulated our national pastime.

 

In ancient times before personal computers and the Internet, board games were an important part of American culture. As youngsters in the 50’s & 60’s, we had a number of choices when it came to baseball-themed games and each one has its aficionados. American Professional Baseball Association (APBA) was first introduced in 1951. Created by Dick Seitz, it was played with dice and player cards representing both hitting and pitching statistics. The game caught on immediately and allowed fans to pass time during the off-season. As Seitz refined the game, it continued to gain popularity and is still sold today. And now, the game is offered in baseball, football, golf, hockey & soccer.

 

During the same era, Hal Richman was also developing a baseball simulation game and Strat-O-Matic was introduced in 1961. While it took a little longer to catch on (Richman had to borrow money from his Father in the 3rd year), the game survived and now has a cult following and is updated each year with current players.

 

The game that took me and my friends away from our homework was called All-Star Baseball and it has a long and interesting history. First distributed in 1941, it was never as intricate as APBA or Strat-O-Matic and didn’t include pitching stats, but for the target audience of 9-12 year-old boys, it was the most fun we could have while also learning the history of the game.

 

Ethan Allen was a major league outfielder from 1926-1938 and had a lifetime batting average of .300. He later was the head baseball coach for Yale University, winning five Ivy League championships in his 23 years at the school. For Allen, however, all of these accomplishments pale in comparison to his creation of this famous board game. The key to the game were player disks where the individual player’s statistics were represented. Power hitters would have a larger home run area while contact hitters were more likely to hit singles, so when you placed the disk in the game’s slot and spun the dial, the outcome of each at bat would be based in reality. Youngsters would put teams together and then by making up a batting order of the disks, play out a nine-inning game to determine the winner. Results of each play are recorded on the field using plastic pegs for base runners, while runs and outs are posted on a rotating scoreboard.

 

To understand the genesis of the game, here’s Allen’s recollection in a 1983 interview with The Sporting News – “I had this idea, even when I was playing, that you could put a man’s playing record on a disk. While I was with the Cubs in 1936, I went to various manufacturers with the hope of selling the idea to them as a game, only to have most of them practically kick me out of their offices.”

 

The moment of truth happened when Allen approached a Chicago company called Cadaco-Ellis in 1940. Donald Mazer was the principal owner and had marketed other sports board games such as “Elmer Layden’s Scientific Football”, “Touchdown” and “All-American Football’. Mazer made a quick decision to add All-Star Baseball to the company’s products and 40 star players of the day were included in the 1941 edition. The following year, 19 of them returned and the rest were replaced by other stars…that’s the way it worked for the next 50 years.

 

For an old codger, the memories of playing this wonderful game as an 11 year-old come rushing back. Other than the recollection of putting a band-aid on my index finger to alleviate the pain from hours of hitting the metal spinner, the clearest memory is the disks and the players they represented. By the 50’s, the game had evolved and not only had disks of current stars like Ted Williams, Duke Snider & Hank Aaron, it also had added legendary Hall-of-Famers. We didn’t need a baseball encyclopedia when we could look at the disk and understand the player’s statistical attributes. Some of the players who would occasionally be in the line-up included Ty Cobb, Eddie Collins, Bill Dickey, Lou Gehrig, Rogers Hornsby, Walter Johnson, Mel Ott, Babe Ruth, Tris Speaker, Pie Traynor & Honus Wagner.

 

You see, some of us were playing Fantasy Baseball before Fantasy Baseball was cool.

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Boston Strong

Agganis

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.

 

Top Ten Baseball Cards Of The 90’s

 

'93 Jeter SP

The baseball card industry was in full blown over-production mode by the start of the 90’s. There were at least 7-8 companies in the marketplace and collectors were reaching the point of frustration. How could you collect everything? And, if not, how did you choose the product to collect? In retrospect, it is easy to see why many people left the hobby…but to quote James Earl Jones, “Baseball is the constant” and many great players made their debuts in this decade. As with our visit to the 80’s, each of these choices represent the rookie card of the player and included in the description is the current price of the collectible in Near Mint + condition.

 

#1) 1993 SP Derek Jeter (#279, $150) – There are at least half a dozen rookie cards of the Yankee Captain and you can still find some in the $15 range. SP was an upscale product produced by the Upper Deck company and the rookies in the set had a “foil” coating that was easily damaged but looked great.

 

#2) 1992 Bowman Mariano Rivera (#302, $30) – One of the few products in this era with a limited production run, Bowman had the first true rookie card of this pitching legend three years before he made his actual major league debut.

 

#3) 1992 Fleer Update Mike Piazza (#92, $30) – The rookie card of the greatest hitting Catcher in history, this was in a boxed set with a limited run…from regular issues, his ’92 Bowman card ($15) is a good alternative.

 

#4) 1994 SP Alex Rodriguez (#15, $20) – Once again, there are many rookie cards of “ARod” in the $5-$10 range but this foil issue is in higher demand. With that being said, his admitted use of PED’s has negatively affected the value of his cards.

 

#5) 1990 Leaf Frank Thomas (#300, $15) – This was the first year of the modern Leaf brand and its high-quality photography, as well as somewhat limited production, had collectors clamoring for the rookie card of “The Big Hurt”. Other rookies in the set included Sammy Sosa, Larry Walker, David Justice & John Olerud.

 

#6) 1997 Fleer Ultra David Arias-Ortiz (#518, $35) – The Red Sox slugger known as “Big Papi” actually came up with the Twins and his name was David Arias…later changed to Ortiz. So, if you come across a David Arias rookie card in a bin of penny cards, you’ve made a find.

 

#7) 1992 Bowman Trevor Hoffman (#11, $15) – Imagine the only two Pitchers with 600+ Saves having their rookie cards in the same set? He is actually pictured in a Reds uniform but never appeared in a game for them before being taken by the Marlins in the November 1992 expansion draft.

 

#8) 1991 Topps Desert Shield Chipper Jones (#333, $400) – A limited production set made during the first Iraq war, it includes the rookie card of the great Braves switch-hitting 3B…a very tough card to find. His regular issue cards from ’91 Bowman & Topps are about $5.

 

#9) 1995 Bowman’s Best Vladimir Guerrero (#B2, $25) – Just inducted into Cooperstown, this popular slugger is the first player to have the Angels cap on his HOF plaque. In 16 seasons, he produced a .931 OPS.

 

#10) 1997 Bowman Chrome Adrian Beltre (#182, $15) – Still getting it done in his 21st big league campaign, he passed the 3,000 hit mark in 2017. Along with five Gold Gloves at 3B, he’ll be a Hall of Famer when first eligible.

 

 

The decade also produced many other outstanding players on their first card including Ivan Rodriguez, Jeff Bagwell, Pedro Martinez, Jeff Kent, Roy Halladay, Lance Berkman, C.C. Sabathia, Andy Pettitte, Josh Hamilton & Matt Holliday.

 

If you desire Ichiro Suzuki’s actual Rookie Card, it is from the 1993 BBM (Japan) set and books for $120.

 

 

 

One Day Of Glory

Santana Heritage

Bud Smith, Kevin Millwood, Jonathan Sanchez, Dallas Braden, Phillip Humber, Henderson Alvarez, Chris Heston, Mike Fiers, Edison Volquez, Eric Milton & Jose Jimenez (not the Astronaut). Even die-hard baseball fans might not recognize some of these names but they all have something in common. During the last 20 years, each of the players listed pitched a No-Hitter.

 

So, is a no-hitter really such a big deal? In those 20 years, there have been over 50 of them pitched at the major league level. Many other accomplishments are much more rare but Managers can’t seem to adjust their thought process, so they throw logic out the window when a no-hitter is in progress. The most recent example was last weekend when Braves Pitcher Sean Newcomb was hurling a gem against the Dodgers. He is 25 years old in his 2nd major league season and has started a total of 40 games with a record of 14-14. This isn’t some journeyman Pitcher taken off the scrap heap…he was the Braves #6 prospect before getting to the majors last year.

 

Whether you agree or not, today’s climate for monitoring young pitchers is clear…be careful, watch pitch counts, simplify mechanics, create innings limits and try to make the player a long-term asset.  On Sunday, however, the Braves (and Manager Brian Snitker) allowed Newcomb to throw 134 pitches before giving up a hit with two outs in the 9th inning. Newcomb’s average pitch count for 2018 is 98…in fact, none of the Braves starting rotation averages even 100. Of course, this is nothing new. Fiers was allowed to throw over 130 pitches for his 2015 no-hitter and Matt Moore threw 130+ in pursuit of a no-hitter on 2016 (like Newcomb, he failed). The following year, Moore had a 6-15 record with a 5.52 ERA and allowed the most earned runs of any Pitcher in the NL.

 

Interestingly, a similar situation happened earlier this season with a completely different outcome. Walker Buehler, the Dodgers best pitching prospect, had a no-hitter after six innings against the Padres on May 4th. He had throw 93 pitches and the Dodgers removed him from the game. Three relief pitchers contributed one inning each and completed a “combined” no-hitter, which still goes in the record books. As a player looks back on his career, which accomplishment is more impressive? Remember, Newcomb didn’t even get a complete game or a shutout.

 

This all brings to mind, two famous (or infamous) stories regarding no-hitters….

 

> Ironically, the number 134 pops up once more in June of 2012. Johan Santana was one of the best pitchers in baseball for eight seasons with the Minnesota Twins, winning two Cy Young Awards in the process. After being traded to the Mets in 2008, he had three solid seasons in New York before missing the 2011 season with arm injuries. Back on the bump in 2012, he found some of that old magic against the Cardinals. Despite the injury history, Manager Terry Collins allowed Santana to pursue the no-hitter even though the Mets were leading 8-0 by the 7th inning. Santana got his “No-No” by throwing 134 pitches and was never the same again. His record that season was 6-9 with a 4.85 ERA and he never pitched in the majors after 2012. As if that isn’t bad enough, if the current replay system had been in place that night, none of this would have happened because in the middle innings, a batted ball ruled foul was actually fair and should have been a hit. Santana would have been out of game long before taxing his arm. The Manager is the same Terry Collins who tried to take Matt Harvey out of that World Series game but let the Pitcher talk him out of it…the Mets lost the game and the Series.

 

> In the Summer of 1970, the Padres were working their way through a miserable season on the way to 70-92 record. On July 21st, Clay Kirby took the mound against the Mets and allowed a run in the 1st inning on a walk, two stolen bases and a ground-out. The Mets couldn’t get a hit against Kirby for 8 innings but the inept Padres line-up didn’t score a run and were losing 1-0 in the bottom of the 8th. In front of the home fans, Padres Manager Preston Gomez decided to pinch-hit for Kirby in an effort to tie the game, but the Mets went on to win 3-0. Gomez was booed and vilified for not allowing Kirby to continue his quest for a no-hitter. Gomez was a long-time baseball man who starting playing in the Minor Leagues in the 1940’s and had paid his dues by managing at AA & AAA before getting the job in San Diego. So, what should have been his priority…trying to win the game or helping a player achieve an individual milestone?

 

As with most players, we can assume that Sean Newcomb was caught up in the moment along with the Manager and the fans. If, however, the Braves are in the play-offs in 2019 with a rotation that includes Luis Gohara, Kolby Allard & Kyle Wright because Newcomb has arm trouble, will the fans that were in the ballpark last Sunday even care about Newcomb? What do you think?

 

 

 

Teddy Ballgame

56 Williams

As serious Fantasy Baseball aficionados, we should never reveal that we really like a particular player. Otherwise, some culprit will try to use that information against us at the draft table. We all, however, have a favorite player from your youth and it is that link to baseball that ties us together. People who are not true fans can never understand what our childhood memories mean to us and how this wonderful game finds a way to take us back to those innocent days.

 

Earlier this week, PBS screened the latest episode of their “American Masters” documentary series by honoring Ted Williams as we approach the 100th anniversary of his birth (8/30/1918). For me, it seems like the right opportunity to help all those unfortunate soles who question our love of the game. This is the piece you need to share with your friends who always look at you quizzically when you try to explain Rotisserie Baseball or how much the sport means to you.

 

The following request was sent to the multi-generational members of my two home leagues – “Please take a moment and let me know who was your favorite player from your childhood. You can just send back a name or feel free to add a sentence or two with any comments about your choice.” Here are some of the responses…

 

> Age 30 – “I’m from a different generation, but for me it was Mike Piazza. It took me until I was about 10 years old before I learned that Catchers weren’t supposed to bounce the ball to 2B.”

 

> Age 62 – “Willie Mays (what a great player) and Hal Lanier (I caught a foul ball off his bat).”

 

> Age 65 – “Of course, it’s a Twin – Harmon Killebrew. As a kid listening on the radio, I loved hearing that he hit another long one. The longest one is still marked on the wall at Mall of America.”

 

> Age 49 – “Growing up in San Diego in the 70’s, there was one superstar on our team we could root for day in and day out – Dave Winfield. When my Mom took us to the Padres’ games, we would actually walk through the player’s parking lot to the entrance gate each time. On one trip, we actually crossed his path after the game and he was very gracious to my family and signed a couple of things for me. I still have the 1978 Topps card he signed that night”.

 

Age 75 – “Ted Kluszewski – The Big Klu. He looked like a baseball player and was the only one to have his photo (from Sport Magazine) on my wall in the 50’s. I gave away a lot of Yankees  (Berra, Ford, etc.) to get his bubble gum cards. No bicycle spokes for me, I carried his card in my back pocket so I wouldn’t lose it. No, I did not know where Cincinnati was except that it was east of Oakland. And the final reason I was a Kluszewski fan (aside from being the only kid in my elementary school who could spell his name) was that my best friend was a Mantle fan, so it was easy to trade baseball cards with him. A ’52 Mantle for a ’52 Big Klu…I thought I was taking him to the cleaners”.

 

> Age 73 – “My favorite player when I was growing up was Mickey Mantle. I tried to copy his swing and the way he ran, especially when he would lay down a drag bunt and beat the throw to 1B.”

 

> Age 62 – “Sandy Koufax! Remember when Koufax & Don Drysdale ‘held out’ for new contracts, asking $100,000 each? Not close to the major league minimum now, but it was a lot of money back in the 60’s”.

 

> Age 35 – “Greg Maddux! I was always amazed at how a Pitcher throwing less than 90 mph could make the best hitters look silly…and it helped that his games were on TBS”.

 

> Age 59 – “Pete Rose, Phil Garner, Catfish Hunter & Bill Buckner. As a player, I tried to play the game like these guys and as a coach, I appreciated their work ethic. Notice that none of them were considered five-tool guys, but all were All-Stars.”

 

> Age 37 – “My favorite player has always been the despised one, Barry Bonds. It started with the infatuation of the Pirates from my Grandfather and continued with the cocky confidence he displayed early in  his career. In the later years, when he was hated, I really loved the guy. I admired how someone could see the baseball so well that even though he’d be lucky to see one good pitch an at-bat, he would still crush it. The ball he hit against the Angels in the World Series still hasn’t landed!”

 

> Age 74 – “Growing up in New York, Mickey Mantle was my baseball idol. He could hit it farther and run faster than any other player of his time and he was the greatest switch-hitter. I particularly remember watching two of his home runs on TV…one left-handed that hit the facade in right field and the other right-handed (off a change-up) that went over the center field fence at the 461 foot marker.”

 

> Age 46 – “My favorite player was Dwight Gooden during his first two years. That was the apex of my baseball collecting times and he was the man on fire. The Mets games were on WOR and I wouldn’t miss a game that he was pitching”

 

> Age 60 – Growing up in L.A., “Big D” was by far my favorite player. I’ve always loved great pitching and Don Drysdale was the guy.”

 

> Age 71 – “It’s Edwin Donald ‘Duke’ Snider. I lived in Brooklyn four blocks from Ebbets Field and they would let you in the ballpark after the 7th inning. There was also a gap between the left field wall and a metal gate, so earlier in the game, you would take turns with your friends to watch. When we would flip our baseball cards, you always wanted to win when Duke was in the pot…not so much Mantle or Mays.”

 

Other players on the list included Ozzie Smith, Boog Powell, Steve Garvey, Roberto Clemente, Thurman Munson & Warren Spahn.

 

For me, of course it was Ted Williams. Spending my early years in the stands at Fenway Park gave me a unique perspective on the skills of baseball’s greatest hitter. Even after all these years, I can remember vivid moments when he came to the plate and the world seemed to stand still. Conversations stopped, vendors ceased their hawking and the hair stood up on your arms. A baseball writer once asked a blind fan why he came to the game instead of just listening to the radio at home and he replied, “I love the sounds of the game when Ted comes up”. It was magical and unforgettable for that youngster in the stands.

 

Only later in life, did I truly begin to understand the complete story of “Teddy Ballgame”. From his impoverished background to his military service to his charitable work for children and yes, all the flaws too. The most comprehensive biography of Williams was published a few years ago and at 800 pages, it is an amazing book. “The Kid”. Written by Ben Bradlee Jr. after ten years of research and interviews, it will be the standard other baseball historians have to meet. Just like me, Bradlee grew up outside Boston in the mid-1950’s and Ted Williams was his hero. On the first page of the book, he recalls getting Ted’s autograph outside the player’s parking lot at Fenway Park and comments that he still has the ball, the ink on the signature now fading badly with the passage of more than fifty years. If he were to visit my home, he would see a similar ball, signed at Fenway Park during batting practice one day for a certain 12 year-old boy. The ink may fade, the memory never will.

Top Ten Baseball Cards Of The 60’s

'68 Ryan

This Old Duck first fell in love in the 60’s (no, her name wasn’t Daisy), so I can certainly relate to this story that was on the Internet a few years ago. It is titled “I went to bat for her engagement ring” and the sad tale is as follows –

 

“My girlfriend and I had been together for about three years and I was sure she was the one I wanted to marry. Problem was, I didn’t exactly have enough money to get her a good engagement ring. So, in order to raise funds, I put my collection of baseball cards on eBay. We’re talking a collection that spanned, like, 20 years, thanks to some cards handed down by my Dad. I was totally bummed to part with them because they were so important to me, but I really, really loved this girl. I ended up making more than enough money to pay for a ring. Problem was, when I got down on one knee, she told me she couldn’t see spending the rest of her life with me. I should’ve stuck with Shoeless Joe Jackson.”

 

If you’re still young enough to be this stupid, here’s some advice about the difference between marriage and baseball cards…if you pamper your cards, they’ll still look just as good in 20 years.

 

In honor of those beautiful girls I knew in the 60’s, here’s my top ten of the decade… as requested by some readers, you’ll also see the current value of each card in Excellent (EX) condition as defined by a grade of “5” by PSA or Beckett.

 

 

1) 1968 Topps Nolan Ryan (#177) – Even though he shares the card with Jerry Koosman, the “Ryan Express” rookie card is still one of the most sought after cards in the hobby. The Hall of Fame fireballer will always have a certain mystique for his legendary fastball and career longevity. ($350)

 

2) 1964 Topps Pete Rose (#125) – Rose’s rookie card from 1963 is missing from this list because it may be the most unattractive high-demand card in history. In that year, Topps put small head-shot photos of four rookies on certain cards and you almost needed a magnifying glass to recognize the “Hit King”. His ’64 card is much more appealing to Rose fans…and much less expensive. ($100)

 

3) 1960 Topps Carl Yastrzemski (#148) – The player who had the difficult task of replacing Ted Williams in LF is shown on a beautiful horizontal format rookie card. His Hall of Fame career speaks for itself. ($100)

 

4) 1962 Topps Roger Maris (#1) – Not only is this the card that shows 61 home runs on the back, but it is also the #1 card in the set and, therefore, difficult to find in nice condition. ($90)

 

5) 1969 Topps Reggie Jackson (#260) – The rookie card of “Mr. October”. ($90)

 

6) 1962 Topps Lou Brock (#387) – An under-appreciated Hall of Famer with over 3,000 hits, this is his rookie card. It is also an ugly reminder to Cub fans that he was traded to the Cardinals in 1964. ($70)

 

7) 1967 Topps Tom Seaver (#581) – Another Hall of Fame Pitcher originally with the Mets, “Tom Terrific” shares his rookie card with Bill Denehy. ($375)

 

8) 1968 Topps Johnny Bench (#247) – Arguably the greatest Catcher in history, this is his rookie card. As with many Topps issues of the era, he also shares the card with another player…Ron Tomkins. ($60)

 

9) 1966 Topps NL Batting Leaders (#215) – A great example of the type of subset cards that Topps added to their sets, this one features Roberto Clemente, Hank Aaron & Willie Mays. ($30)

 

10) 1967 Topps Bob Uecker (#326) – This choice may seem “just a bit outside” but it was the final season for “Mr. Baseball”. ($10)

 

To reinforce the depth of collecting during this decade, rookie cards that didn’t make the list include Willie McCovey (1960, $75), Joe Morgan (1965, $35), Steve Carlton (1965, $70), Jim Palmer (1966, $40) & Rod Carew (1967, $150).

 

Spahnie, How I Love “ya

Spahn SI

For most fans, baseball is about memories. Maybe that clutch hit you got in Little League or the first baseball card of your favorite player. How about the first big-league game you attended or even playing catch with your Dad? And, if you ask any fan you know if they have at least one baseball autograph, the answer will assuredly be “yes”.

 

Sports autographs can be linked back to the early 20th Century when Babe Ruth was more famous than the President of the United States. In fact, in 1930 the Babe was asked about his $80,000 salary and the fact that it was $5,000 more the than the salary of President Hoover and the Bambino replied, “I know, but I had a better year.”

 

Ruth became the first full-fledged sports icon and children would line up in droves just to see him and get him to sign a baseball they bought for 50 cents. Obviously, just like every other baseball fan, they didn’t know what they held in their hands. To them, it was a piece of their hero.

 

For me, the autographed baseball I got from Ted Williams when I was a 12 year-old will always have a special place in my home and my memory. In the 1980’s, I embarked on another project involving autographs. As a subscriber to Sports Illustrated Magazine since the 1960’s, I had saved many of the issues because of the beautiful photography…especially on the covers. A local sports-themed apparel store was having a grand opening with Dale Murphy signing autographs for free. I had a beautiful cover from his MVP season in 1983 and decided to take advantage of the offer. Then, I found out that my next-door neighbor was a cousin of Gary Carter, so he got another ’83 cover signed for me. At that point, I started to visit the exploding category of sportscard shows in Southern California and added Hank Aaron’s autograph on the SI cover showing his 715th HR from 1974. As with many “labor of love” projects, this one essentially developed a life of its own. Over the next 20 years, the collection expanded to almost 200 autographed covers. It completely overran my house and now fills every wall in my garage and a number of boxes on the floor. A few years ago, 30 of the covers (each signed by a baseball Hall of Famer) were part of a Spring Training display at the art gallery of the Peoria (Arizona) City Hall.

 

As you’d expect, every cover has a back-story, but today we’ll talk about Warren Spahn. One of the greatest pitchers in the history of the game, his story is amazing. He debuted in the majors during the 1942 season but only appeared in 4 games without a victory. Then, he served in World War II and missed the next three seasons. Back with the Boston Braves in 1946 (at age 25), he got his first win on the way to a record of 8-5.

 

Listed generously as 6′ and 172 pounds, this diminutive left-hander led the NL in IP (289.2) & ERA (2.33) in 1947 while compiling a record of 21-10. That was the first of 13 times that “Spahnie” won 20 games or more including a 23-7 record in 1963 at age 42! He led the NL in Wins eight times and complete games nine times. Add in 14 All-Star teams and a Cy Young Award in 1957 (he finished 2nd three times) with a total of 363 victories in his career and you have the stuff legends are made of. He became a Hall of Fame member in 1973.

 

In the mid-90’s when my autograph project was going full-bore, there was a huge collectibles show that afforded the opportunity to get multiple signatures over the course of a weekend. Spahn was one of the available guests and I managed to find a beautiful SI cover from 1956 showing him in that classic Braves uniform with his unmistakable wind-up. I waited in line patiently for the opportunity to get the autograph of this unique player. When he arrived, the fans were somewhat taken aback by his appearance. Like most players of his generation, he came attired in a suit  & tie (on a hot Summer day) and he looked much older than his years (early 70’s). The process seemed to be a struggle for him, but he was cordial and attentive to the fans. As I got closer to the head of the line, he could be seen leaning toward the show promoters and quietly telling them something. When it was finally my turn, he looked straight at me and said, “Would you mind waiting while I go take a piss”? The fans laughed and then applauded as he slowly walked toward the rest room. They applauded again when he returned and he smiled and asked me how I would like him to personalize the autograph. The result is what you see today.

 

Just one of 200 stories, but certainly one of my favorites.