Thursday, February 19, 2009

#35 & 36 -- Jerry Johnson & "In Action"

Jerry Johnson

In 1971 Jerry was the top reliever on the Giants team that won the NL West. His 18 saves were 4th in the league. To make the All-Star team now, you’ve got to have more saves than that by the break. Of course in 1971 (1) more pitchers were throwing something called a complete game, so they didn't need relievers and (2) managers didn't give a rat's ass if a pitcher got a stat or not. The only important stat for Charlie Fox in 1971 was something called a "win."

Jerry didn’t repeat his success in 1972, going 8-6 4.42 with 8 saves. The Giants waived him. Didn’t even try to trade him. He had MVP votes the previous year and they didn’t think they could get any value for him. I guess you could do that when you had a few thousand tied up in a guy rather than a few million. Again, the rationale for whether to play or waive a guy in the early 1970's had nothing to do with contracts, but was all about winning. Today, a guy can lose his effectiveness as a closer, but he stays around. Heck, Eric Gagne just signed a minor league deal with the Brewers. Gagne was a great reliever before arm problems, but if you look at his anticipated effectiveness for 2009, you would think he would be a little less desirable than somebody like Jerry Johnson.

Unfortunately, the rest of Jerry’s career was mediocre at best. He bounced around with the Phils, Cards, Indians, Astros, Padres and Blue Jays. He was the winning pitcher in the Blue Jays first game, helping bail out Bill Singer, who we saw recently.

I can’t tell anything about the "action" in the In Action card. I know the game isn’t in June, because this photo was taken in Candlestick Park, the shadow suggests it’s late in the day and the few fans in the background aren’t huddled in blankets. But what’s Jerry doing? Is he walking off the mound after getting an inning-ending strikeout? Did he just get caught finishing his windup in warm-ups? Is he going to cover first on a bouncer to McCovey? It’s a good thing they’ve cropped this to close up on Jerry so we can’t see the rest of the field because the shadow keeps us from seeing Jerry’s face.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

#33 & 34 -- Billy Martin and "In Action"

Billy Martin

This is a famous card of Billy. Look at the middle finger on his left hand. Is he really flipping the photographer the bird or is he just comfortably leaning on the bat? I'll leave it to you.

The Tigers took the pennant this year, becoming the second team Billy led to the playoffs. He won the AL West with the Twins in 1969, but beat up a starting pitcher and ignored the owner, so he got canned anyway. I wonder if he was trying to "instill hustle and desire" into him like the cardback suggests.

He took over the Tigers and led them to within an eyelash of the World Series (a rare Eddie Brinkman throwing error led to the game winning run in Game 5), but got fired anyway after finishing 3rd the next year. Billy was fired more than any other manager, but the only one of his teams to not make the playoffs were the sad sack Rangers, although he guided them to a surprising second place finish in 1974. He "left" 9 managing assignments and the only two where he "left" with a less than .500 record in his last year was with the Rangers and the '82 A's.

Don’t tell me you didn’t see the "In Action" card coming. What is Billy Martin’s In Action card going to have? He’s arguing with the ump. He’s probably using the kind of language his left hand did in the previous card, but he hasn’t boiled over to kicking dirt around yet. Check out that vein about ready to pop on the right side of his neck. This may be the most appropriate In Action card in the entire set.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

#31 & 32 Cleon Jones w/ In Action

Cleon Jones

Cleon Jones is a big guy in Mets’ lore. In 1969, he hit .340 to lead the team to an improbable Series and used the Nippy Jones trick to show shoe polish on the ball to convince the umpire to let him take first base as a hit batsman in Game 5 of the Series.

Cleon was one of the best all-around outfielders the Mets would have until Darryl Strawberry. He drew some complaints from the front office for supposedly having a cavalier attitude and being lazy (he was once pulled off the field like Jimmy Rollins), but when you're a star, you can get away with it. However, in 1975 some of his attitude met up with owner Donald Grant’s, uh, disappointment at being caught with drugs and a white woman to whom he wasn’t married. I only add the part about the woman being white because that was important in Grant’s furor. The only baseball Cleon played after that was a month with the White Sox. Still, I think Cleon is beloved to

This is the first in the "In Action" subsets. When you look through this set, almost everything is posed. In the 1971 set, there were several action shots. They went back to action shots in the 1973 set, but the photography on them looks like a 6 year old did it with one of those old Brownie cameras that you look down into the top. The 1973's are often grainy and at a distance. This was the only year that Topps used the "In Action" subset, possibly to emphasize "This is an action shot!" While it was a way for them to get additional cards of popular players in the set (they don't still do that, do they?), as you'll see, it also led to some questionable selections getting additional cards. As a whole, I think the "In Action" subset was a failure, but these cards are contained in all 6 series.

The First Series In Action cardback reminds me of when Little Ralphie Parker got his Little Orphan Annie decoder ring in "A Christmas Story" and the message turned out to be "Drink more Ovaltine." His response: "A stinking commercial" That's how I feel about these cardbacks. There's nothing there but a stinking commercial for the 3rd through 6th series.

Let’s take a look at the “action” going on. If that’s the pitchers mound in the background, then is he going to tag up at second on a fly ball? I guess he could be running from first to second and that’s the right field bullpen mound. Not a lot of action there.

Monday, February 16, 2009

#30 -- Rico Petrocelli

Rico Petrocelli

Among those adorable Chowds, Rico is a folk hero. He was made for Fenway Park. I heard an interview last fall on XM’s Baseball Channel (before Sirius took over and ruined it) of he and Jim Lonborg talking about the Impossible Dream Red Sox team from 1967. He talked about how he tailored his swing for the Green Monster and the thrill of having the soft liner that was the last out in the pennant clincher land in his glove. He's written a book about that team called "Tales From the Impossible Dream."

He was a big part of their team, hitting 40 homers as a shortstop in 1969 while making only 14 errors. He started having injury problems in 1974 and was never the same after being hit in the head in 1975, although he fared well in the Series against the Reds.

Looks like a Spring Training pose on this card. George Toma sure wasn’t the groundskeeper here. That patch on the right side of the card looks about like some of the softball fields I’ve played on. I can’t figure out who that is in the background. I’m going to say it’s some pitcher, although there’s really no telling.

Small card show report -- Last Hole Filled In

I took some time at a small card show over the weekend at the mall. There were only about 10 vendors. The one that has older vintage cards I like wasn't there. It didn't look too promising.

However, I saw another guy that I'd never seen before. He had a lot of cards from the early 70's back through the 60's in a dollar box. He also had a good trove of 1972 high numbers. I picked up one card I need for my 1964 set. I'm down to 13 needed.

I picked up about 12 of the high numbers needed for my 1972 set. I'm down to 13 needed on it.

The real big thing that came of this for me was that I got the last few cards for my 1971 set. It's finished. I now have complete Topps sets for 1971, 1973-2008. I'm about 1/2 way through a 1970 set. I have this thought that I'm going to work backwards, but I don't know how far I'll go. At the same table I saw a guy buying up 1957 singles. He was looking at a checklist. He asked how much it was. "It books for eight, but I'll let you have it for four and a half." Somehow, I don't think he was talking about dollars. That makes me wonder how far back I'll be able to go....

I wish Kevin could have been there. There were a lot of 1965's in those dollar and two dollar boxes.