Saturday, January 17, 2009

#4 - First Series Checklist

A stinking checklist. Not much more can be said about these guys. I like it now that the stinking checklist isn’t considered a part of the base set. That means I don’t have to collect them. As I’m putting together older sets (1970 and before) I hate having to find checklists and pay decent money for them. I’d rather buy an Enzo Hernandez card than a stinking checklist.

1972 Feature

One of the biggest honors of the year is the announcement of the Nobel Peace Prize. Nobel Prizes are cash awards given in many fields of the human endeavor (medicine, economics, literature) and are given by an endowment of the man who invented dynamite, Arthur Nobel. Originally the purpose was to use the cash award to encourage great people to do great things for mankind. However, the Peace Prize seems to stick out as the most important.

It's been won by many great people for pursuing an end to hosilities. It's been won multiple times for trying to end the centuries old conflict between Israel and the Arab world. Lech Walesa was a winner for putting his life on the line to try to bring freedom to Poland. Dr. Henry Kissinger is a winner. Mother Teresa won. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bishop Desmond Tutu were honored for their work to bring basic rights to people of color. Secretary of State George Marshall won for his humanitarian plan to rebuild and restore post-war Eurpoe. One of the first winners was President Theodore Roosevelt for leading talks to end the Russo-Japanese War.

Who won in 1972? Trick question. Same person that won the 1994 World Series MVP. The official listing says the prize "was allocated to the main fund." What that means is that they didn't think anyone was deserving and the prize wasn't awarded in 1972. At that time, I think the monetary value of the prize was significant, but it isn't anymore. 1972 was the last time the Nobel Peace Prize was not awarded. Short of another world war, I don't think we'll see another when the prize isn't awarded because now it often seems to be used to bring a particular cause to the public light. But in 1972, the Nobel Peace Prize was about like a stinking checklist.

#3 -- Bobby Tolan

Bobby Tolan

Pete Rose, Joe Morgan and Bobby Tolan. That was the top of the lineup for the Reds. Those guys could fly (well, Rose could run hard, but it's a stretch to say he could fly) and they had gap power. That put plenty of runners in scoring position of Johnny Bench and Tony Perez. No wonder they were second in the league in runs/game. This was Bobby’s last really good year. He was coming off a ruptured Achilles that kept him out all of 1971 and I suspect that, and bad blood with management in 1973, led to a downward spiral with Ken Griffey eventually taking his spot in the order and in right field. However, 1972 was rosy for Tolan. He doesn’t really show it here, but I remember him holding his bat really high in his batting stance, not as high as Yastrzemski, but the opposite of Roy White.

Sadly, his 23 year old son, Robbie Tolan, was recently shot by police in Bellaire, Texas, near Houston. Robbie played independent minor league ball in 2008. The Tolans are claiming this was a case of racial profiling. The case is now being investigated and initially it looks like he was mistakenly accused of driving a stolen vehicle because of a mistake in reading the numbers on the plate. In any event, thoughts and prayers to Robbie and his family as he recovers.

1972 feature
Pac-Man, Super Mario Brothers, Space Invaders, Halo, Grand Theft Auto, RBI Baseball. They're all recognizable video games. Do you remember how it all got started? If you went to an arcade in 1972, you'd see a lot of pinball games. But you wouldn't see any video games. Until Atari released the original video arcade game: Pong. When this came out it was so cool to get to play something on a screen. I think the only special feature it had was that you could adjust the size of the paddles. I might be wrong. There's an arcade nearby that has a Pong machine along with all your favorites from the 80's called 1984.

I think Pong could probably be used as a punishment now, as in, "Jimmy, if you don't get your room cleaned I'm going to make you sit down and play Pong with me for 30 minutes." "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!! I've got rights. You can't do that to me. I'd rather get sent to Guantanamo and made to eat broccoli!"

I guess you can say we've made progress. But in the beginning, there was Pong. And it was good.

Friday, January 16, 2009

#2 -- Ray Culp

Ray Culp

Ray pitched in the Sox rotation the first half of 1972, but wasn’t consistent. His last start (and game) of the year was on July 13 when he was lit up by the Twins. Ray had arm troubles over his career, so I’m going to suspect he was hurting. After all, the cool cartoon question on the card back says he led the Sox in innings pitched in 1971 and he looks monkey-armed and exhausted. He was released at the end of the year and re-signed in 1973, only to prove he was out of gas. In his career he was a 2-time All-Star, pitching 2 scoreless innings and striking out Tony Perez and Randy Hundley. He finished a distant 3rd in the NL Rookie of the Year balloting behind Pete Rose and Ron Hunt.

1972 Feature

Baseball went to Spring Training in 1972 under a cloud. Marvin Miller and the Players' Association were talking about a strike. The owners didn't really think it would happen, but when April 1 hit, so did the first major league baseball strike. The players ended up getting $500,000 for the pension fund and a concession for arbitration, but nothing for free agency.

As 1972 started, Curt Flood's career was over, Andy Messersmith was coming off a 20-win season for the Angels and Dave McNally had four straight 20-win seasons under his belt. Every major leaguer who doesn't have to get an offseason job to make ends meet should look those guys' names up, read about them and send them and their family (Flood and McNally have passed away) a thank-you card every year.

The strike ended on April 13. Games started back up. However, the owners refused to pay the players for the 7-9 games they refused to play. The games were never replayed. That wreaks havoc on my 1972 Strat-O-Matic game because the players ended up with fewer innings and at bats, so they start running out of gas quicker. That wasn't all the havoc caused by the unplayed games, as we'll see later on.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Interlude for 2009 wish list -- Blog Bat Around #3

I'm a newbie to writing baseball card blogs, but I'm not a newbie to buying and collecting baseball cards. I've been at this since 1972. I've gotten out a few times for various reasons, but I always get back in.

I'm a set collector first and foremost. Except for a few cards I lack (less than 25 each) from the 1971 and 1972 sets, I've got everything back to 1971. I'm short about 15 on 1964 and I've started on 1970 (about 40%) through it. I loved the sets from the 70's and 80's because they put all the players in it. Now, they didn't put everybody that spent a day on the 25-man roster, but Topps was very representative of showing us not only the superstars, but also the role players at the end of the bench. Take the 1972 Cardinals for example. We got Joe Torre, Lou Brock and Bob Gibson, but we also got Dennis Higgins, Marty Martinez and Art Shamsky. Therefore, the first thing I want is a solid flagship set with most of the players included.

Card stock is another thing I've seen change over the years. In the 70's, we got a cardboard stock that was very conducive to creasing and soft corners. In the late 80's, the quality of the cardboard improved and you don't see the corners getting soft on those cards. Then came 1989 and Upper Deck putting cards on photo-quality paper. I'm all for a quality stock that doesn't crease easily or develop soft corners, but I can do without the gloss on the front that Topps and UD have done lately. I can understand UD doing it with their superior photography and full card coverage (no borders). I prefer the finish of Heritage. This is probably because secondarily I like to collect through the mail autographs and the gloss hinders signatures. The second thing I'd like is a flagship set with a flat finish.

In the 80's I was collecting all sets. I've got all the Fleer, Donruss, Score, Upper Deck, Bowman, Leaf, Ultra and update sets produced through about 1991. At that point I had to back off. Now I'm just at Topps. I know we're down to Topps and UD now, but I'd like to see them weed out some of the sets. I like Bowman (including the Draft Picks/Prospects....guess what I think about Chrome) and Heritage. I like the Allen & Ginter and Goudey, but I haven't bought any. I agree with everyone that says there are too many superfluous sets. However, if the card companies need to produce X or whatever to provide enough of a profit margin to give us a good base set at a decent price, go ahead. In fact, load those sets up with the chase cards that "high end" collectors want. I don't need that. The third thing I'd like is a flagship set and a secondary set largely free of chase cards.

As a set collector, and especially since I'm getting ready to go after sets in the late 60's, it's really difficult to think about paying premium prices for role players just because they're high numbers (those were yesteryear's short prints). It's even more difficult when it's a rookie card of a Hall of Famer that falls into the short prints. Throw us a bone and have an even collation and equal printing in the flagship set. If they want to have the gimmicks and short prints in some of the secondary sets -- go for it.

I understand that profit is important for the card companies. Some of the things I want aren't going to be possible because of the need to make money. However, I'd like it if the card companies really looked long at all of the secondary sets to see if there are some that are a drag on their profits and get rid of them. However, if I have to put up with some of the stuff I don't want in order to have a quality photo on a quality card (contrast with the 1968 set -- photography looks like Napoleon Dynamite's friend Deb might have done it), then so be it.

One thing I've learned. I may not like what the card companies do, but I just can't see me not buying the Topps flagship set for that year. If you haven't figured it out, a lot of my requests could be accomplished by the card designers getting into a DeLorean at 88 mph. I like the older sets more than I like the modern cards. However, I'll always be there. I'm looking forward to 2009, but for now, it's back to 1972.

#1 -- Pirates Team Card

1972 Pittsburgh Pirates

For a few years Card #1 belonged to the previous year’s World Series Winners. The Pirates beat the Orioles in 1971 in a 7 game thriller. This was the first Series I remember watching. It's funny, but I only have 2 clear memories of it. One was Frank Robinson sliding into home under Manny Sanguillen as Manny was jumping to get a high throw. The other was Roberto Clemente, particularly his throw from the right field wall to home. That guy was amazing, but more on him later. This card looks to be the unusual team picture that was taken after the gates had opened and fans were milling around in the background.

I usually remember The Lumber Company with guys like Stargell, Clemente, Sanguillen, Oliver and Hebner, but you should also remember they didn’t have a regular shortstop (Gene Alley and Jackie Hernandez) or second baseman (Dave Cash and Rennie Stennett on their way up and Mazeroski on his way out), one outfielder was a platoon between Vic Davalillo and Gene Clines and their pitching staff was good, but not one that was able to consistently lock a team down. However they had a good righty-lefty bullpen combination with Dave Guisti and Ramon Hernandez shutting down the end of the game.

Bill Virdon took over managing the team in 1972 from Danny Murtaugh. Murtaugh ended up coming back when the Pirates were disenchanted with Virdon. Virdon went on to become the first manager fired by George Steinbrenner, but he was amazing with the Astros in 1980. The Pirates had 3 future Hall of Famers on this team (Willie Stargell, Roberto Clemente and Bill Mazeroski). Clemente was the only Gold Glove winner. Stargell started the All-Star Game in left field and the Pirates were also represented by Clemente, Steve Blass, Manny Sanguillen and Al Oliver. The Pirates won the NL East by 11 games over the Cubs and met the Reds in the NLCS. They were 3 outs away from a second consecutive World Series, but that belonged to the Reds.

There were a few teams from 1972 that I would play when I'd get in the vacant lot next door. The Cardinals were my favorite team, so they always played. The Reds played a lot as did the A's and Orioles. The Pirates were usually in the mix. I saw those teams play a lot on the Game of the Week and knew their lineups forwards and backwards.

1972 Feature

1972 was one of those years that had a lot going on. As a leap year, it had Summer and Winter Olympics and a Presidential election. We were at war in Vietnam and involved in a Cold War with the Soviet Union. There was violence and bombings between England and Ireland. We were still sending men to the moon. Hippies were still demonstrating on college campuses. Chess became a big deal. Baseball only had one nationally televised game a week and no designated hitter. ABC's Wide World of Sports was a must watch each week. A miracle occurred in Pittsburgh. Finally, an earthquake in Nicaragua led to an international outpouring of aid.

As we go through this blog, we'll visit some of these events in detail and a few more.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Welcome to 1972

The 1972 is the funkadelic set that in many ways matches the time. I started collecting baseball cards about this time. It was the first I seriously collected. I remember walking to the post office with my grandfather and he’d always stop at the pharmacy on the way back and get me a rack pack. These were also the guys I’d get in the backyard and play games of. I had to learn how to throw a ball up and hit it left handed so I could be Lou Brock, perfect the chicken wing to be Joe Morgan and whip the bat around in a circle like Uncle Wilver Stargell. Now that I have Strat-O-Matic I’m playing through the 1972 season.

I've read Andy's blogs on the 1988 set and the 1978 set. I really enjoyed them and, while I understand his decision to suspend the 1978 blog, I've been inspired by what he's done. For those of you familiar with his blogs I'm going to use something of the same format in that I'll go through the set card by card. I'm nowhere near the stats guru he is, so I'll just have anecdotes about the player on the card, and some historical references (history is one of my other passions) to the world at large and the sports world in 1972.

I'm not trying to be a copycat and this is not going to be the same quality. I'm not trying to join the pantheon of baseball card blogs. I'm just trying to have some fun. I don't know how regularly I'll post and certainly can't make any representations about the quality. Just like anyone else, my personal views will spill over into the writing, so if you don't agree with my viewpoint, politics or faith, that's OK. I really just hope you have some fun, too. I welcome your commentary. Let's go back to the first baseball strike, Richard Nixon's landslide, Earl Morrall riding to the rescue and 787 funkadelic cards.