Tuesday, August 31, 2010

#10 - Johnny Bench

This is the first "honor" card of the set and its subject is already the third Hall of Famer of the set, an All-Star catcher who was at the top of his game when this shot was taken. This is part of the opening trend of action shots; including the Aaron card, three of the first ten shots qualify. Johnny Bench was cranking then but entered the '73 season as a question mark since he'd just had off-season lung surgery to remove a tumor that was happily benign. But he was able to then produce a typically excellent season during which he threw out 49% of base runners who tried to steal on him (vs a league average of 36%); did a great job pulling an ailing pitching staff together; and had a fifth consecutive year of 25 or more homers while also going over the century mark for the third time in RBI's. He was a guiding force in getting Cincinnati to its third post-season in four years. A lot of people seem interested in the geography of the shots: which stadium and who else resides in the shot, etc. That is not really my bag, but given the Mets uniforms in the dugout in the back, it is definitely Shea. That may be Tom Seaver to the right. I do not know if the shot was taken during the '73 playoffs, but it would add to the drama if it was.

Johnny Bench grew up in Oklahoma, where of course Mickey Mantle was his idol. He played the big three sports - football, basketball, and baseball - and was widely recruited by schools in all three while at Binder HS. But Cincinnati made him a second round pick in the '65 draft so Johnny went that way and right off the bat that summer in A ball showed his skill behind the plate and in working with pitchers while hitting not too badly for a 17 year old. In '66 at that level he improved his offense substantially to hit .294 with 22 homers and 68 RBI's in only 98 games when he was pushed up to Triple A. But there he got hit by a foul tip, breaking his hand, and missed the rest of the season. To top that off, on his way home after the season he was in a bad car accident. He came back strong in '67 though, when he started at the higher level and put up a line of .259/23/68 again in 98 games before he was called up to Cincy at the end of August. For his work that year he won The Sporting News Minor League Player of the Year.

Bench's month up top didn't produce great offense in '67 but he sure did impress people with his work behind the plate, challenging veteran pitchers on pitch selection and even realigning the infield defense. In '68 the Reds traded incumbent starting catcher Johnny Edwards to St. Louis and this Johnny was made a starter out of the gate. He didn't disappoint, winning a Gold Glove, being named an All-Star, and winning the NL Rookie of the Year award. Most impressive was his stat line which was exceptional in a year everyone else's was challenged. A founding member of the Big Red Machine, Johnny's power numbers were pretty awesome his first few seasons. He picked things up in '69 and then sandwiched two huge MVP seasons around the very discounted '71 when the team couldn't get anyone on base ahead of him. While '72 went very well, he may have experienced his pro ball nadir in the Series that year when he struck out on an intentional walk (to be fair Gene Tenace snuck his mitt back over the plate after having Johnny pitched way outside for the prior three pitches and Johnny was caught looking). His Reds would tear up the NL in '73 and then lose in a huge upset to the Mets in the playoffs.

In '74 Bench upped his offense again to a .283/33/129 line, leading the NL in RBI's for his third and final time, though Cincinnati lost the division to LA. But in '75 and '76 the Reds came back strong, winning that dramatic Series over Boston in '75 and crushing everyone in the post-season by going 7-0 in '76. That first year Johnny put up a typical line of .283/28/110 but in '76 he would have his worst season since '71 due to a bad back. But he atoned by having a monster post-season, hitting .333 against the Phillies and a sick .533 with two homers and six RBI's in the four-game sweep of the Yankees. Johnny would follow that up with his a very nice '77 during which he had a .275/31/109 line and then over the next three seasons average 23 homers and 74 RBI's as he missed time each year to knee and other injuries, though catching was still his primary position. In '81 Johnny hit .309 in an abbreviated season and that year began playing mostly at the infield corners. He stuck around through '83 and then retired. Johnny finished with a .267 average with 389 homers, 1,376 RBI's, and a .342 OBA. When he retired he set the record for most homers by a catcher. He may have been even better defensively, finishing in the top 20 all-time for putouts and double plays for catchers and in the top 70 for assists. He caught 43% of attempted base stealers against an NL-average 35%. He was an All-Star 14 times and won ten Gold Gloves. In the post-season he hit .266 with ten homers and 20 RBI's in 45 games. He made the Hall on his first shot in '89.

Bench kept an active profile while playing, making frequent television appearances. He continued that when he retired, doing sportscasting, hosting theme-based shows, and making commercials. He has been an avid golfer and is an active speaker, many times on behalf of baseball.

The back of the card has a lot of stars, which is appropriate. As mentioned above, the homer mentioned in the last star was his only RBI of that series. He would make up for that in spades in '76 in another Series against a New York team. As far as the cartoon goes, it highlights Bench's wide range of skills. I remember seeing him on a variety show when I was a kid. He was also a very good bowler, which I believe was mentioned in a cartoon on another one of his cards. Johnny has a SABR page.

For the degrees of separation, this one gets a little trickier:

1. Bench and Bobby Tolan, '70 to '73 Reds;
2. Tolan and Nate Colbert, '74 San Diego Padres;
3. Colbert and Mickey Lolich, '75 Detroit Tigers.

That ties for the longest list so far.

Monday, August 30, 2010

#9 - Mickey Lolich

Mickey Lolich. We are back to a significant pitcher, another guy that chewed up innings and did well in the post-season. Mickey was kind of an anomaly: a very good performer in his chosen athletic field of endeavor who looked horrible doing it. This card photo doesn't show it but along with the big innings and big wins Mickey toted around was a pretty huge belly. A better view of it may be seen on his '76 record card (in '75 he broke the career record for strikeouts by a lefty). '73 must have felt like a bit of a bummer for Mickey. A big playoff push in '72 - Detroit took Oakland to five games in the AL series - seemed to have chewed up a lot of the Tigers reserves and the following season was a big discount that saw manager Billy Martin get canned. So when his homers thrown ratcheted higher and Detroit's defense ratcheted lower, Mickey's ERA and wins went in opposite directions. Still, it was a pretty good year and would be a picnic compared to what was on the horizon. Mickey also smiled a lot, as shown in this shot at Comiskey; he, like Catfish, was supposed to be a pretty good guy.

Mickey Lolich grew up in Oregon where he had lots of success as a pitcher, going 19-5 in high school and getting to both the Babe Ruth and American Legion national championships. He was signed by Detroit in '58 upon graduating for a pretty decent bonus and got things rolling the next year, posting a nice ERA but a losing record in a season split between B and A ball. With a tendency to be a bit wild, Mickey would do that split the next two years as well, with varying degrees of success. In '63 he made it to Triple A where he went 10-13 with a 5.00 ERA.But after a better start at that level in '63. Mickey got called up to Detroit that May.

After some early relief work, Lolich jumped into the Detroit rotation his rookie year and, shades of his first year in the minors, put up a nice ERA but with a losing record. In '64 new manager Charlie Dressen heped fix a flaw in Mickey's delivery and the results were pretty tangible pretty much immediately as he put up two excellent years the following seasons. Mickey was still primarily a heat guy and that lack of variety contributed to a steep discount in '66 and then in '67 he missed a bunch of starts due to some military reserve work. But that year Detroit also got a new pitching coach in Johnny Sain who convinced Mickey he didn't need to be a power pitcher 24/7. Again the results were pretty dramatic as Mickey dropped his walk totals, knocked nearly two runs off his ERA and led the AL with his six shutouts. That good work continued in '68 and '69, Mickey's first All-Star season, and sandwiched an excellent Series in '68. '70 was a hiccup as he led the AL in losses and saw his ERA elevate a bit. But in '71 his new cut fastball helped propel him to a monster season in which he led the AL in wins, complete games, innings, and strikeouts coupled with a return to the All-Star game and second place in Cy Young voting. In '72 Mickey's 22 wins helped the aging Tigers to the playoffs in his final All-Star year.

The fallout that impacted Detroit in '73 really came home to roost the next few seasons and impacted Lolich's record significantly. In '74 his ERA moved up another notch and he led the AL in losses as he went 16-21 with a 4.15. By '75 nearly the whole '72 roster was gone and Mickey suffered a sort of bipolar season as he started the year 10-5 despite the team's losing season. But then though his ERA was about 3.80, Mick suffered a dearth of run support and went 1-13. Following that season the Mets decided they needed another lefty in the rotation - they already had two in Jerry Koosman and Jon Matlack - and made one of those terrible deals that plagued the team back then, grabbing Mickey for big, but slow, hitter Rusty Staub.

Lolich put up not bad numbers in his new home in NY and followed his pattern when in a new environment: a decent ERA coupled with a losing record as he went 8-13 with a 3.22, But Staub had been a fan favorite and had a big first season in Detroit so Mickey was booed a bunch at home and really didn't care for the NY pitching regimen. So rather than return he retired and sat out the '77 season. He then signed with San Diego as a free agent and in '78 had a nice year in the pen, going 2-1 with a 1.56 ERA and a save in just 20 games. That magic wore off a bit in a '79 spent in a spot role and after that season Mickey retired for good with a record of 217-181 with a 3.44 ERA, 195 complete games, 41 shutouts, and ten saves.In the post-season he went 3-1 with a 1.57 ERA in five games.

After done playing Lolich owned and ran some doughnut stores in the Detroit suburbs until he sold the business and settled in the Detroit area and Oregon. He also worked for a long time as a coach at Tiger fantasy baseball camps. He has a very detailed bio from the folks at SABR.

Again, like with the Catfish card, Topps seems to stick with a stat year and run with it. In Lolich's case, this would be 1971. It was a pretty awesome year for him. The stats illustrate his strengths: lots of innings and wins with to date one losing season, his rookie year. His '68 Series work put Mickey on the national map as he went 3-0, winning the mvp, and outpitching that year's two MVP's, Bob Gibson and Denny McLain. The cartoon at first seems pretty funny, given Lolich's girth. Upon re-thinking, though, with long hair, a beard, and shades, he would have probably fit the package for any hog rider back then.

Lastly, I want to begin implementing something I have been doing when I move around baseballreference.com. I am going to link the featured and the previous player via degrees of separation whereby I get the two players on the same team with the fewest links. So for Mickey Lolich and George Theodore, it gets done pretty quickly:

1. Lolich and John Milner (or Ed Kranepool, Tom Seaver, etc.) on the '76 Mets;
2. Milner (or any of the other guys) and George Theodore on the '73 to '74 Mets.

For Theodore and Catfish, I get a longer list:

1. Theodore and Teddy Martinez on the '73 Mets;
2. Martinez and Sal Bando on the '75 Athletics;
3. Bando and Catfish Hunter on the '67 to '74 A's.

Then, for Catfish and Aaron:

1. Catfish and Mike Hegan on the '71 to '73 A's;
2. Hegan and Hank Aaron on the '75 to '76 Brewers.

The links are short because except for Theodore these guys are all pretty established players. This exercise gets trickier when the names are not household ones.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

#8 - George Theodore

This is "The Stork's" first and only card. I like that Topps threw a Met card right after an A's card since they were the Series opponents the previous year. It is quite possible that nobody was more emblematic of the '73 Mets season than George here. At the top of the season the Mets had a set outfield plan with Willie Mays in center and Rusty Staub, John Milner, and Cleon Jones handling the corners. Don Hahn would be backup number one and George here, who made the cut in spring training, would be backup number two. But things went wrong fast and during the season every starter - including Rusty, who kept playing - got hurt and spent time on the DL so both George and Don got more playing time than expected. And George wasn't doing too badly, hitting at a .261 clip and providing some decent defense when on July 7th he and Don had a nasty collision while chasing a fly ball that put The Stork out of commission until mid-September. George dislocated his right hip in that bang-up, which could apparently be heard throughout the stadium, so the two of them were going awfully fast when they hit. Here, on a much calmer day at Shea, he sports what appears to be a wry smile with a member of what might be the Giants behind him. If I am correct about the NY opponent that day, it would most likely be either Bobby Bonds or Chris Speier.

George Theodore grew up in Salt Lake City where he was a pitcher and first baseman in high school and then attended the University of Utah. A deceptively speedy guy, George led his team in stolen bases in both '67 and '68 and his senior year of '69 hit .336 while leading the team with 24 RBI's. He also graduated on time with a degree in psychology and was accepted into the schools MSW (Master of Social Work) program. But George was also drafted by the Mets - in the 31st round! - and decided to see how far he could get in baseball. Initially, it wouldn't be too much past A ball, though he hit well enough to warrant moves up it seemed every year. In '69 he posted a .390 OBA while playing outfield and in '70 and then '71 at the same level he increased his numbers pretty substantially, that last season moving primarily to first base while posting a .411 OBA. In '72 he finally moved up, retaining his new position while posting some decent numbers in Triple A. He then got invited to camp to start the '73 season.

The Stork's injury hit him hard and while he seemed to recover physically, his hitting and running abilities declined pretty substantially thereafter. He returned to NY in '74 but spent his time as either a backup at first or as a pinch hitter, replacing the departed Jim Beauchamp in that latter role. Neither job worked terribly well for George, who hit only .158 in 76 at bats, and in '75 he was moved back to Tidewater. There he returned to the outfield but hit only .253 in under 300 at bats and was released after the season. George finished with an MLB average of .219 and in the minors hit .298 with a .378 OBA. In the post-season he was hitless in two at bats.

Following his release George returned to the University of Utah, reapplied for his MSW and received it by the end of '78. He then had a long career as a guidance counselor and therapist in a local elementary school while also coaching Little League teams.

The back of the card is pretty much all minor league stuff. I think the cartoon captures the Stork's personality pretty well. Marshmallow milkshakes seem pretty scary these days, but he was a thin guy so it was probably OK to be retro-actively non-pc about the diet. He was supposed to be a bit of an oddball and claimed that transcendental meditation helped him hit the curve but was still searching for something to help him with the slider. On his college team was also Bill Parsons, another tall gangly guy in this set. It must have been an interesting looking team.

A good story about George is that when he showed up for his first game with the Mets he was running late and grabbed the first thing he could find before he hit the dugout. He then entered the game only to have the umpire tell him he had to take off his warmup jacket. He complied, revealing what he had on underneath: nothing!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

#7 - Jim Hunter

So the first regular card of the set, pennants and all, is Catfish Hunter, which I like because nobody was a more emblematic star player of the early to mid-Seventies than he was. So this is the typical card layout of the set: team colors represented by the border and the pennants, those latter emblems sporting the full name of the subject's team. The player's position and name filled in the balance of the writing on the front of the card. 1974 would be Catfish's best year and would also cement the A's as one of the best dynasties ever. In the '73 set he had a special card that told the whole "Catfish" yarn. I thought finding out later that the story was a scam invention by Charlie O Finley - Oakland's owner at the time for you young folks - so he could justify the use of colorful old-time nicknames on his stars was pretty hilarious. I love the nickname, actually. I think Catfish went along with it because he didn't give a damn.

Oakland was in the Series in '73 (and '72 and '74), and Hunter was a big reason they got there. He pitched a ton of innings and was a control guy, not a lot of strikeouts per nine innings (he was always on the list of most absolute, but that was because of his innings). He also gave up a lot of homers, which he really didn't sweat. He was definitely an entertaining guy, able to handle the media really well as well as the special chemistry of the team and its owner, and then slip back to his farm down south. '73 was some year for Hunter: he'd won 15 games by the All Star game and then broke his thumb in it trying to barehand a comebacker. That almost enabled the Royals to grab the division while taking Catfish out of the line-up for about a month, but both Hunter and the A's came back by winning a bunch in mid-August and again in late September. Given how he was rolling that year, it is quite likely that minus the injury Catfish would have had his biggest season in '73. In his three full months that year he went 4-2 twice and 6-0, so adding on the lesser of those months as devil's advocate gets him to 25-7 for the year. He really did roll at an opportune time for his team.

Hunter grew up in Hertferd, NC, where he was an excellent high school pitcher, going a combined 26-2 his junior and senior years with five no-hitters, two of them perfect games. He'd been high on just about every team's radar but his snior year had part of his foot shot off in a hunting accident which made a bunch of scouts run away. But a local guy, Clyde Kluttz, a former big league catcher - had been scouting Catfish for years and stuck with him through the accident. When Catfish's high school career ended in the spring of '64 Clyde's team, Kansas City, signed him to a bonus baby contract of around $75,000. After signing he played one more season of American Legion ball and then was dispatched by the A's to the Mayo Clinic where some shrapnel was removed from his foot from that hunting accident, so no more baseball for him that year.

Since Hunter was a bonus baby he joined the KC roster right away and never pitched in the minor leagues. Things went a little slowly the first couple years but started popping a bit in '66 and '67 when he was an All-Star and began reporting improved ERA's and in '68 when he evened his record for the first time and threw a perfect game. Initially Catfish was primarily a fastball guy and he would average around six or seven strikeouts a start. But he pretty quickly became a control guy, would generally walk very few batters, and would rely on now-Oakland's strengthening defense as he put the ball in play a lot. '69 was a bit uneven but beginning in '70 Catfish became a big winner, returned to the All-Star game on an annual basis, and averaged over 20 wins a season for his duration in Oakland. In '71 he won over 20 for the first time while dropping nearly a run off his ERA and had a huge year at the plate, hitting .350 with twelve RBI's. In '72 his ERA fell by another run and he ld the AL in winning percentage. '74 was Catfish's Cy year as he went 25-12 with a 2.49 ERA and only walked 46 guys in 318 innings; his wins and ERA led the AL. Prior to the '74 season Catfish had signed a contract with Oakland that deferred half his salary to be invested in annuities. Towards the tail end of the season it was discovered that owner Charlie O hadn't made the agreed-upon deposits into those annuities and as a result had voided the contract. That allowed Catfish to become a free agent just after his biggest year and in a fit of bidding from just about every MLB team, he signed with the Yankees for $3.2 million over five years, which was a significant uptick to what anyone else was making playing ball back then.

The New York team Hunter joined was on its way but didn't quite have the pop that Oakland had but Catfish was able to post a first year in NY that was only a modest discount to his prior one, going 23-14 with a 2.58 ERA while leading the AL in innings and with 30 complete games. In '76 the Yankees got all the pieces to win the AL pennant but while Catfish was again an All-Star (for the final time) he showed signs of vulnerability as his record fell to 17-15 and his ERA popped a run. That all came home to roost the next season-plus as Catfish went a combined 12-13 with an ERA over 5.00 as he missed time to both shoulder ailments and diabetes (and perhaps to the early onset of ALS) and in between posted some not very good post-season numbers. But in '78 when the Yankees came from more than 15 back and battled Boston down the stretch, Catfish posted his last hurrah and from August 1 went 9-2 with a 2.23 ERA before winning the Series clincher against LA. After a '79 in which he was bedeviled by the deaths of three people who were very close to him - his dad, Clyde Klutts, and Thurman Munson - Catfish retired with a record of 224-166 with a 3.26 ERA, 181 complete games, 42 shutouts, and a save. A very good athlete, he hit .226 with six homers and 51 RBI's for his career. In the post-season he pretty much matched his regular season numbers, going 9-6 with a 3.26 ERA, four complete games, and a shutout in his 22 games, winning five rings.

Hunter retired to run his farm back in NC and do lots of hunting and fishing. He was elected to the Hall in '87. He would get officially diagnosed with ALS in the late Nineties and passed away in '99 at only 53. Catfish was supposed to be a good guy and I can't believe he's been gone 11 years now. There was a story on how he'd split after the season and leave his car on the West Coast for one of the team employees to use and then pick up the tab for the guy's travel expenses. I like those stories.

The back of the card is, again, the same standard setup that was on the first Aaron card. The cartoon is pretty lame since we already know the nickname from the autograph. The stats clearly show a guy at the top of his game. Catfish would be one of a handful of pitchers to win 200 games by his 30th birthday, which I think was the primary argument for his Hall of Fame inclusion. His perfect game was the first in the AL since Don Larson's Series one and the first regular season one in 46 years in the AL. Topps liked to skip years on some stats, mentioning Catfish's from '72, which might imply his ones from '73 were bad. They weren't: 2-0 vs. Baltimore with a 1.65 ERA, 1-0 vs. the Mets with a 2.03 ERA. Not bad.

Lastly, normally a guy with the stats of Catfish would get a milestone card, at least one that ended with a zero. Here, he gets a seven. My guess is that for this set, the first regular card was considered a tribute, so it was not a snub.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

#6 - Hank Aaron Special

This is the last card of the Aaron commemorative set, showcasing his four most recent cards. While I like the array of poses, especially the '71 card which takes over the "closest to a smile" race and the action card from '73, I have to say that the '70 card is the all-time worst card of Aaron's by far. Maybe he was just bummed to see the 60's end but he looks like he was just busted doing something he wasn't supposed to. And where was the photo taken? It looks like an alley somewhere. Maybe it's the same background Topps used for their early basketball cards. Anyway, echoing my sentiments about the '69 card, couldn't they find a better shot? I mean, it was Hank Aaron, for crissakes!

For the back of the '70 card, Topps returned to multiple tones, but picked pretty ugly ones - blue and yellow. The back on the '71 card was pretty cool, or so I thought at the time. It would be an aberration for the time since it was a reversion to the one-season stat deal. But it had a second black and white head shot of the player and was nicely arranged, although in Hank's case the back photo was the same as the front. In '72 we get everything back - the cartoon, the neat arrangement and even Hank's minor league stats. Finally, in '73 Topps tries a black frame, loses the minor league data, but compensates with the Hank-specific cartoon. That was always my favorite set.

The back of the last card highlights his important homers, basically every 50th one he hit, plus his first and 713th, the last one being the last homer he'd hit in '73. It is a pretty good list of pitchers that occupy this list: a couple Hall of Famers, a bunch of 20-game winners, an oddball or two, and at least one of the great all-time nicknames ("The Springfield Rifle"). I am pretty sure that Jerry Reuss was happy to get his name off the list once the record was broken.

Monday, August 9, 2010

#5 - Hank Aaron Special

Here we go with more half-smiles, although the '66 card has the closest thing to a full smile in years. I like the busy background of the '67 card. In '68 and '69 Hank reprises the static poses from '54 to '56. Topps really couldn't track him down for a new shot for '69? 1968 is actually a special set for me because that was the first year I had any of my own income - from a paper route, remember those things? - to buy any cards. I never got the Aaron, so I will consider its duplication in '69 to be an homage to my start in collecting. Very considerate of them.

For the '66 card back, Topps gets a little stylish with a rose tone and a compartmentalized layout. In '67 things get green and vertical. We also get two cartoons (it reminds me of the back of the '71 set) but Topps does stay stylish by actually using the word "fabulous" in the narrative. '68 backs look a lot like '66's but with a yellow/orange tone. In '69 we get Big Pink - to celebrate the Band album? - and no cartoon for Hank. It was also the first year Topps dropped his minor league stats. No room!

On the back of the card, Topps continues the year-by-year commentary of Aaron's career. No creative writing this time; the numbers are enough. It really was some career.

Friday, August 6, 2010

#4 - Hank Aaron Special

This next card highlights something I kind of picked up on the last card. Hank's expression is always a half-smile. It is pleasant enough but never exactly gleeful ("glee" being a popular word these days). It certainly doesn't approach what I always thought was the happiest pose by a major leaguer I ever saw, the '71 Vida Blue card. Given the name of this blog, I feel it is only appropriate to mention the pennants on the '65 set, which I think are stylishly superior to the ones on this set. I will say that the ones in '74 are much more symmetrical, however, as will soon be seen.

The back of the '62 card was sort of dull, with a brown/cream color for the tone. In what seems to be a back-and-forth, that year Topps again did the one season thing for the stats. I will say the cartoon that year is highly stylized and realistic. In '63 things got brighter with an orangy tone and multi-year stats again, although the cartoon comes back to the familiar generic ones. In '64 Topps got clever: the card back was pinkish-orange with no visible cartoon...unless one had a nickel. That was the year one had to rub the space on the card back to find the answer to that card's quiz question. Very high tech! For '65 things on the back got blue and simple with big lettering, multi-year stats - now the norm - and an un-rubbed cartoon.

The first thing that I will say about the back of this card is that I did a much better scanning job. Since the blog is about the cards, however, and not me, there are a couple real tidbits on the back of this one. The first is that by '74 I had of course heard of Bobby Thomson. This was the first time, though, that I was able to link him with something or somebody "real time." I had also not known until this card that Aaron replaced Thomson in the lineup. Thomson had always up to that point been strictly associated with the Giants. To continue this tangent, there was a book written in the '90's called "Underworld" by Don DeLillo. It is a huge wonderful book and one of the plot threads involves what happened to the baseball hit for a home run by Thomson in the '51 playoffs, the "shot heard 'round the world." A couple years before the book was published, what became the prologue of the book was published in Harper's as a Folio story called "Pafko at the Wall." It is probably the most amazing piece of sports literature I have ever read. It is a fictionalized account of the game - Andy Pafko was the Brooklyn outfielder over whose head the homer was hit - and has Jackie Gleason, Sinatra, J. Edgar Hoover, and other period guys as attendees. Even if you don't read the book - a mounting task - I would encourage anyone interested in the game to read the prologue.

Back to the card, I love Topps' choice to write something meaningful for Aaron's '62 season. The first Valley Girl baseball card.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

#3 - Hank Aaron Special

This is the third Aaron special card in the set, the second of the four-card displays. A lot of basic colors on those cards, especially yellow. I like his compact signature on the '59 card - very dignified. It's much neater than the one on the first card of this set. Maybe the latter was done when he was rounding the bases, which he did a bunch in '73.

A few words about the backs of these individual cards might be appropriate here. In '58 the stats were for the former year only and they were broken down by stats vs. each team in the league. Also the narrative was signed by "the Editors of Sport Magazine." In '59 they were back to multi-year stats and his cartoon is hilarious; he looks like a combination of Babe Ruth and John Dillinger. In '60 Topps reverts to the one season format - like in '52 - to make room for a bunch of season highlights. And in '61 we get back all the seasons along with three cartoons. In one cartoon Hank is pictured winning the '59 batting championship at about seven years old.

The back of this card has a list of Aaron's most memorable home runs. Who knows, maybe they actually asked him. I wouldn't be surprised to find out Topps did these all on their own. I guess they seem legit. I would think his first big league homer would finish higher than fourth but the guy had over 700 at this point so he gets to make his own priorities.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

#2 - Hank Aaron Special

The second card of the Aaron special set is the first one that shows all his Topps cards sequentially, four old cards to one new one. I guess Topps could have gone either way on this card, landscape or regular. This card has his true rookie card as '54 was Aaron's first year in the majors. The '54 set was Topps' fourth and it was a beautiful one. The back of that original card may be seen at www.goldenagebaseballcards.com, a very nice site to view and review 1950's Topps cards. I like those old cards - they were very colorful. The back of the '55 card was very similar in color and had fielding stats with a cartoon that was a true/false type with a general subject. In '56 the card backs were all cartoons and all about the subject on the front. In '57 Topps went back to one cartoon and the stats included all Hank's seasons for the first time. Meanwhile on the card fronts, one of Aaron's best baseball traits - his consistency - apparently applied to his poses; he didn't move a muscle for his first three years! Of course, that gets shot to pieces with his '57 card when he mysteriously turns up as a lefty, but that's just Topps reversing the image. That should have been an easy pick-up by those guys given Hank's number, but what are you going to do?

The back of the card is loaded with data. Topps lists a bunch of records held by Aaron at the time, from the obvious to the surprisingly obscure. Who even kept track of data like "Extra bases on long hits" in that pre-Bill Jamesian time? Topps, I guess.

I thought it would be interesting to see where Hammerin' Hank stands currently in regard to these records, so here goes:

Most Total Bases, Lifetime - Aaron, with 6,856 is the leader. The closest active guy is ARod, but he is 1,900 back.

Most Seasons, 30+ Home Runs - Aaron, still with 15. Barry Bonds has 14. ARod has 13 and may not get there this year.

Most Seasons, 20+ Home Runs - Aaron tied with Bonds at 19. ARod should have 15 soon (he has 17 as of today).

Most Consecutive Seasons, 20+ Home Runs - Aaron with 19 again. Bonds and ARod are or will be at 15.

Most Sac Flies, Lifetime - Aaron tied for fourth (with Frank Thomas) at 121. Eddie Murray leads with 128.

Most Intentional Bases on Balls, Lifetime - Aaron is second with 293. Bonds is first - no surprise - with 688!!!

Most Long Hits, Lifetime - now called extra base hits, Aaron leads with 1,477. Manny Ramirez has 1,118.

Most Seasons, 100+ Runs - Aaron has 15. ARod has 13.

Most Consecutive Seasons, 100+ Runs - Aaron tied at 13 with ARod and Lou Gehrig (yay!). ARod has 52 this year.

Most Home Runs at Age 37 - this won't change, Aaron had 47, Bonds had 46.

Most Home Runs at Age 39 - Aaron at 40. Bonds beats him with 45.

Most Seasons Leading league in Total Bases - Aaron with 8. Ruth, Cobb, and Williams did it 6 times, ARod 4 times.

Most Seasons, 300+ Total Bases - Aaron with 15. ARod has 9.

Most Seasons, 100+ Total Bases on Long Hits - the one I love. Aaron, with 19, I don't even know how to check.

Most Consecutive Seasons, 100+ Total Bases on Long Hits - Aaron again. See the last one.

Most Seasons, 150+ Games - Aaron with 14 gets beat by Rose, with 17. Cal Ripken Jr. had 15.

Most Home Runs for One Club - please!!!