Saturday, October 31, 2009

Tony Gonzalez (#245)

Tony Gonzalez was one of the Phillies' regular outfielders for most of the 1960s. After playing in the Reds minor-league system (including 1958 and 1959 in Havana), Gonzalez made the Reds team in 1960, but was traded to the Phillies in June. He immediately took over the center field position, and held either the left field or center field job through the 1968 season. Primarily the center fielder, Gonzalez was the regular in left field during 1966 and 1967.

In 1967, Tony's .339 batting average was 2nd best in the NL.

Gonzalez was selected by the San Diego Padres in the expansion draft prior to the 1969 season, He was the Padres regular leftfielder before being traded to the Braves in June 1969. The Braves outfield was already staffed by Rico Carty, Felipe Alou, and Hank Aaron, but Gonzalez was the swingman in left and center, giving Carty and Alou some rest.

Prior to the 1970 season, Alou was shipped to Oakland, so Gonzalez started 111 of the first 132 games in centerfield, before being sold to the Angels. Once in California, he took over the centerfield job that had been shared by Jay Johnstone and Roger Repoz. In 1971, Gonzalez had a reduced role for the Angels: splitting the left field job with Alex Johnson, and pinch-hitting.

1971 was the end of Tony's major-league career. In 1973, he returned to play 45 games for the Phillies double-A team in Reading, PA.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Final Card: Roger Maris

Everyone knows about Roger Maris (#330) and his 1961 season, so I won't re-hash that here.

Roger's major league debut was in 1957, with the Indians. Before that, he played minor-league ball in the Indians' system for 4 years, including a stop in Reading, PA in 1955 (then an Indians' farm club, but since 1967, the Phillies' double-A team).

In mid-1958, the Indians traded him (along with 2 other guys) to the Kansas City Athletics for infielder Woodie Held and 1st baseman Vic Power. As with most good Athletics players of that era, Maris was eventually traded to the Yankees. New York acquired Maris (and 2 other guys) for P Don Larsen, RF Hank Bauer, LF Norm Siebern, and 1B Marv Throneberry.

As you can see by the back of his card, as soon as Maris joined the Yankees, he became a homerun machine. He appeared in 5 straight World Series with the Yankees (1960-64).

Yankee outfielders in the "Maris era" (click to enlarge):

After the 1966 season, Maris was traded to the Cardinals for 3rd baseman Charley Smith. After 7 seasons with the Yankees, Roger could now be "just another guy" on a team already led by Bob Gibson, Orlando Cepeda, Lou Brock, and Curt Flood. He played his final 2 seasons in St. Louis, and appeared in the World Series both years. A nice way to wrap up a career!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Final Card: Larry Jackson

Larry Jackson (#81) made his major-league debut with the Cardinals in 1955, and was a workhorse pitcher for every one of his 14 seasons. (His 2-2 record in 1956 is misleading. That year, 50 of his 51 appearances were in relief.) He was generally (and exclusively after 1958) a starting pitcher, except for the 1956 season.

After 8 seasons with the Cardinals, he was traded to the Cubs. He won 24 games in 1964, (but unfortunately for him, it was for the Cubs, and not the world-champion Cardinals).

After 3 full seasons in Chicago, he was traded to the Phillies in mid-April 1966. He won 15, 13, and 13 games in his three seasons with the Phillies as their #3 starter. Normally, this would be considered a good thing, but in Jackson's case, the 1966 trade included the Phillies parting with rookie pitcher Ferguson Jenkins, who went on to win at least 20 games for 7 of the next 8 years (twice leading the league in wins). At least the Phillies learned their lesson (until 1982, when the Cubs again fleeced the Phillies by sending SS Ivan DeJesus to Philadelphia for SS Larry Bowa and a minor-leaguer named Ryne Sandberg!)

After the 1968 season, Jackson was selected by the Montreal Expos in the expansion draft. Rather than start over with a new team, Jackson retired. The Phillies sent good-field no-hit shortstop Bobby Wine to Montreal as compensation.

Joe Pepitone (#195)

For the next several days, my 3 card blogs will take on a Phillies and Yankees flavor, as we gear up for the World Series.

Joe Pepitone was the Yankees regular 1st baseman in the 1960s. Here, he looks like the Yankees answer to the Jets' Broadway Joe Namath.

He was a backup 1B-OF in his rookie year of 1962, but when 1st baseman Moose Skowron was traded away after the season, Joe took over as a regular for the rest of the decade. In 1967 and 1968, he was the Yankees regular centerfielder, as he swapped positions with Mickey Mantle due to Mantle's limited mobility. After Mantle's retirement prior to the 1969 season, Pepitone moved back to first base.

After the 1969 season, he was traded to the Houston National League Baseball Club (known outside the Topps baseball card company as "Astros") for outfielder Curt Blefary. Midway through his only season with the Astros, he was acquired by the Cubs, where he would play until May 1973. In his first season in Chicago, he was their centerfielder, then came two seasons as their first baseman. In 1973, the Cubs traded him to the Braves, who released him one month later.

In summary, Joe Pepitone came along and replaced Moose Skowron, then Mickey Mantle, then Ernie Banks!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Jim Palmer (#575)

Jim Palmer was a key part of the Orioles pitching staff for almost 2 decades.

The early years:

His major-league career began in 1965. Since the rotation was already capably manned by Milt Pappas, Steve Barber, Dave McNally, and Wally Bunker, Palmer found himself as the #3 man in the bullpen behind Stu Miller and Dick Hall. He did manage to make 6 starts to go along with his 21 relief appearances.

Palmer's potential enabled the Orioles to trade Pappas to the Reds for Frank Robinson prior to the 1966 season. In his 2nd year, Palmer joined the starting rotation and made 30 appearances (all starts). He was the #2 starter in innings (behind McNally), with Bunker and Barber completing the rotation. The top-notch pitching, along with Frank Robinson's triple crown season, led the Orioles to a World Series championship.

In 1967, the wheels fell off the entire starting rotation, with Palmer affected the most. Because of a sore arm, he made only 9 starts for Baltimore in 1967. He was sent down and only played 34 innings combined in A and AAA ball. The Orioles dropped to 6th, as McNally and Bunker were also having problems.

In 1968, he wasn't on the Orioles at all, and only managed to pitch 37 innings combined for 3 Orioles farm teams. (Back then, the Orioles were my "A.L. team", and Palmer was one of my favorite players. I remember thinking at the time that Palmer was done.) Meanwhile, the Orioles rebounded to 2nd place, thanks to McNally's comeback season of 22 wins.

In 1969, Palmer was back, with 16 wins. Mike Cuellar was acquired from the Astros (for Cury Blefary - what a steal!), and posted 23 wins. McNally won 20 games, and the Orioles finished in 1st place, meeting the Mets in the World Series.

In 1970, Palmer began a string of winning 20 or more games 7 times in 8 years. The rest is well-known history.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Final Card: Eddie Mathews

Eddie Mathews (#58) began playing pro baseball in 1949 at High Point-Thomasville, in the class-D North Carolina State League. He also played in Atlanta and Milwaukee when they were Braves' minor league teams.

His major-league debut was in 1952 with the Boston Braves. After 15 years as a fixture with the Braves, Mathews was traded to the Astros, where he joined the 500 homerun club in 1967. In August 1967, he was dealt to Detroit (for pitcher Fred Gladding), where he finished his career by getting a World Series ring with the 1968 Tigers. What better way to go out!

Bob Aspromonte (#95)

Bob Aspromonte was an original Houston Colt .45 from 1962. In fact, he started practically every game at 3rd base for Houston for their first 6 years. Here we see "Aspro the Astro" with a doctored cap, as with all the 1968 Astros cards.

The back of the card tells us that "Last year, Bob had his finest big league season at the plate". No matter, as 1968 was the year he finally lost his regular 3B job (to 2nd-year man Doug Rader). After 1968, Bob was sent on to the Braves, and ended his career in 1971 with the Mets.

The card back also tells us that Bob got 1 at-bat with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1956. Thanks to that one appearance, he became the last active Brooklyn Dodger.

Tommie Aaron - Why does he have a card?

Tommie Aaron (#394) didn't have a baseball card in 1967 - and with good reason. He had no appearances with the Braves in 1966. Likewise, he appeared in a total of zero major-league games in 1967, yet here he is with a 1968 card. Where's the logic?

However, Tommie does hold the distinction of being one half of the greatest brother home-run tandem in history, with 768 homeruns (Hank - 755, Tommie - 13)!

Notice Topps' new airbrushing style of completely obliterating the front of the cap with black, a technique used with reckless abandon on the Athletics and "Houston" (Astros) cards in 1968.

Why does he have a card?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Frank Kostro (#44)

It looks like Frank Kostro played minor-league baseball forever. So much so that there's no room on the back of his card for any commentary.

Kostro's card displays the dreaded position of "INF-OF". In reality, he was primarily a pinch hitter in 1967 and 1968, while playing only 4 games in the field in 1967, and in a few dozen games in 1968. He ended his career in 1969 with 2 pinch-hitting appearances for the Twins.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Woody Fryman (#112)

As you can see from the previous post, Jim Bunning was All-Everything for the Phillies pitching staff in 1967. Nevertheless, the Phillies traded him to the Pirates in the off-season for Woody Fryman and 3 minor-league prospects (including SS Don Money).

Since this card was in the 2nd series, it was printed and sold just a few months after the trade, so we see Woody still in his Pirates uniform (no, that's not Jim Thome).

Though not as accomplished as Bunning, Fryman was 12 years younger, and as a southpaw, he gave the Phillies' starting rotation more balance, teamed with lefty Chris Short and righthanders Larry Jackson and Rick Wise. (Bunning was righthanded.)

After three seasons as a starter, Fryman spent his last year and a half with the Phillies as a swingman, before being shipped to the Tigers in late 1972.

Topps lazily used this same photo for Fryman's 1969 card, apparently having no time during the 12 months after the trade to snap a new picture of Fryman.

Also see his 1967 card.

Friday, October 16, 2009

NL Pitching Leaders (#7, #9, #11)

With Sandy Koufax retiring following the 1966 season, and Bob Gibson missing almost 2 months with a broken leg, this opened up some space at the top of the National League pitching charts in 1967. The Phillies' Jim Bunning took particular advantage:

Had the Phillies not foolishly traded Fergie Jenkins to the Cubs in early 1966, the Phillies may have had a stranglehold on these cards!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Ed Charles (#563)

Ed Charles was a 5-year starter at 3B for Kansas City, then was traded to the Mets on 5/12/1967 for outfielder Larry Elliot (who never played another major-league game after 1966). He took over the Mets regular 3rd base job from Ken Boyer (86 starts vs. Boyer's 43 starts) . Charles continued as the Mets' regular 3rd baseman in 1968, but lost his starting job in 1969 to Wayne Garrett. Twelve days after the Mets won the 1969 World Series, Charles was released.

What caught my attention about this card is the large amount of blank space on the card back. Usually, Topps omitted the minor-league stats for long-time veterans, but they did it here also. When checking into Charles' minor league statistics, I learned that he was originally signed in 1952 by the Boston Braves.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Tigers Rookies - George Korince/Fred Lasher (#447)

What is up with Topps and George Korince? This is his 3rd rookie card in 2 years! He wasn't that good!

On the other hand, Fred Lasher appeared in 140 games from 1967 to 1971 for the Tigers, Indians, and Angels. He also made 11 relief appearances with the Twins in 1963. It looks like he's in a Twins uniform in this picture.

Reds Rookies - Johnny Bench/Ron Tompkins (#247)

The second-best rookie card of 1968 belongs to Johnny Bench (oh... and Ron Tompkins).

Bench came up in September of 1967, and played well enough that the Reds traded their 6-year starter Johnny Edwards to St. Louis in the off-season. I can remember reading the pre-season predictions in a local Philadelphia paper during the Spring of 1968. The sportswriter was doing a preview for each team, and for the Reds he said "The Reds need to hope that Johnny Bench can stay off his last name".

What can be said about Ron Tompkins? Congratulations, you have a very valuable rookie card!

Mets Rookies - Jerry Koosman/Nolan Ryan (#177)

Has there ever been a better 1-2 punch on a Topps Rookies card than this? Topps had a pretty good combination on one rookie card in 1967, but this one is gold. I was flipping through my 1968 cards, and no other team's rookie cards comes close. (I also discovered that there were no Giants' Rookies cards in 1968.)

Jerry Koosman followed up what teammate Tom Seaver started in 1967 with a spectacular rookie season of his own in 1968, including being selected to the all-star team, and was the National League southpaw on the Sporting News all-star team.

Nolan Ryan's early career with the Mets was adequate. (Does anyone remember his ongoing problems with finger blisters, and the pickle brine solution that was the treatment?) Ryan was traded to the Angels a few years later for an aging Jim Fregosi. This turned out to be the Mets' version of the Phillies/Cubs Ferguson Jenkins trade.

Good call, Topps!!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Mickey Mantle (#280)

Another all-time great centerfielder!

Although this is not Mantle's last card, 1968 was his last season. (He retired during spring training in 1969. Topps' 1969 Mantle card includes a retirement note.)

The back of this card shows that the Mick has been slipping since 1965, although through 1967, his career batting average was still over .300 (he would finish 1968 with a .298 career batting average).

Due to his limited mobility, Mantle played first base during his last 2 seasons, switching positions with Joe Pepitone.

Willie Mays (#50)

Topps got a little lazy when it came to Mays' cards. This is the same photo that was used on the 1965 card. (The 1966 Mays photo was also used in 1969.)

It looks like age is catching up to Willie. A quick check on his stats shows that 1967 was an off year for Mays. 1966 was a good year for him, but it was a step down from his previous seasons. Willie went on to play 5 more seasons, finishing in 1973 with the NL champion Mets. He retired with 660 home runs (2nd place at the time).

Notice the typo in 1963: ("Sna Fran").

Houston, we have a problem...

In a strange move, the word "Astros" was not to be found on any Houston Astros card in 1968 or 1969. As far as Topps was concerned, the team name was known as "Houston" on the front and back of every card (including text on the back). Also, the Astros "star" logo was removed from all hats. This was done in three ways.

1. There was the standard airbrushing jobs (here you can see the mess that remains after a poor airbrushing job):

2. Besides the usual airbrushing, Topps replaced the front of the hat with a black space (It looks like they simply cut a hole in the film.) This was also done extensively with the Oakland Athletics' cards. (This was the first year following the move from Kansas City, so all the Athletics' cards were given the no-hat-logo treatment - more on that in another post):

In the mid-1960s, the Astros seemed to have more than their share of sub-par catchers. First there was John Bateman and Ron Brand. In 1967, Brand was left out of the Topps set while the non-descript Bill Heath was given a card. In 1968, Heath was out, Brand was back, and we were also treated to a third-string catcher named Dave Adlesh. They were all gone before 1969 (Bateman and Brand were scooped up by Montreal in the 1969 expansion draft, and Adlesh landed in St. Louis).

3. And then there was the old fall-back of going hatless (same Morgan photo used in 1969). Here it looks like Joe is thinking "If only I could go to a better place - like Cincinnati".

10/29/2009 edit:
Thanks to Fleerfan for his take on the 1968/1969 Astros issue.

11/26/2009 edit:
Here's another angle that I just found today.

No, I said 100 threads per inch!

The 1968 card design is infamously known as the "burlap" series. After the first series, the border design was altered to a finer "grain". This is best shown on the 2nd Series Checklist card.

In each series, Topps included the checklist for the current series, as well as for the next series. So, the 2nd Series Checklist was printed during the 1st series run...

... and with the redesigned border in the 2nd series run:

The back was the same for both versions: