Rich Reminisces: What’s in a Name?

Happy New Year! If you happen to follow my Facebook page, you have seen over the past year I tend to post some funny names which pop up while doing COMC Identification work.
Those names range from the Unfortunate…
….to the sublime (Alexa Bliss, yes I’m referring to you).
This John Hillerman look-alike had the name of F.T. Mann. I just call him Fatty Man nowadays:
But another part of names, and we all have one, is how people are named after one another in sports history. We begin with Grover Cleveland Alexander who was, of course, named after the only U.S. President to regain the presidency after losing an election:
Grover Cleveland was interesting because in his first year in office (1885) he married the then 21-year old Frances Folsom, who would go one to live past the conclusion of World War II. He might not have looked the part, but he was considered quite the ladies man before he became President. He was part of the incredibly cruel 1884 election, which featured these two memorable slogans, the first being: “Ma Ma, Where’s My Pa, Gone to the White House, Ha Ha Ha”.
Cleveland assumed paternity of a child born out of wedlock.Through DNA testing of present day, we would have actually known who the father of the child was. Cleveland’s party used this slogan in response: “Blaine Blaine, James G. Blaine, The Continental Liar from the State of Maine.”  And you thought today’s politics were rough?
As stated above, the most famous person named after him is Grover Cleveland Alexander, who won well over 300 games in his fine career. He may best be known for saving Gave 7 for the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1926 World Series. Contrary to legend. the famed strikeout of Tony Lazzeri was in the seventh inning, because the series ended with Babe Ruth being tagged out at 2nd on a steal attempt.
Another Hall of Famer named after a famous player who became even more famous than his predecessor was Mickey Cochrane. Cochrane was a Hall of Fame catcher and won a World Series as a manager before Bump Hadley‘s beaning ended his career.
A few years before Cochrane’s career concluded, a young man named Mickey Charles Mantle was born in Oklahoma. Now, I would have preferred Cochrane as the middle name, but the legend of being named after Cochrane was sufficient at the time.
And in a couple of other cases, we revert back to the 1st and 2nd name matching. This one is close to my heart, because well, the reason will be obvious. Chuck Klein had a nice career buttressed by playing in Baker Bowl.  Well this a nice photo of Mr. Kline:
Imagine my surprise while doing COMC Identification work to see a Charles Klein Stobbs as a name on a card:
And what is Chuck Stobbs best known for? While he was a competent major league pitcher, he is best known for surrendering a 565 foot homer to one Mickey Mantle:
And while the names of many athlete are getting stranger, sometimes we still see names we recognize…
Or whom we think is named after someone famous…
Part of me hopes Mr. Downs makes a mark in the majors because the original Jeter (Derek) is another one with a great name…..
You see, Derek Jeter’s full name is Derek Sanderson Jeter. Yes that is the same name of the 1960’s-70’s hockey wild man Derek Sanderson. Jeter is as controlled in his life as Sanderson could be out of control.
One of things I remember about Sanderson came from reading his autobiography where he claimed that his favorite song was “Poor Side of Town” by Johnny Rivers. Well, he did pick a great single for that purpose:

And since it seemed that between 1964 and 1968 Rivers recorded every song ever written, here are a couple of more I especially like by him:
And to conclude this “What’s in a Name” blog, while this is not related to people being named after others but sharing a same name, I have no other place to put this. In the 1960’s Paul Simon put this line into the lyrics of a song:
“”Be careful his bowtie is really a camera”
Which is a line from the song “America”. Well, did you think that two decades later a man named Paul Simon would have a brief run for the presidency and be best known for, you guessed it. wearing a bow tie?
Rich Klein can be reached at RichKlein@Comc.com

The Good Word: Manufactured Blog Post

(Note: COMC Communications Manager James Good wears many hats at COMC, including Social Media Manager and Blog Editor. While he does a wealth of the writing and curating of other blog posts found on our Blog, ‘The Good Word’ is a new regular Editorial style blog series where he will more openly share his opinions and thoughts on sports and trading cards.)

It is rumored that P.T. Barnum once said, “There’s a sucker born every minute”. I’d like to think that there are no such thing as suckers when it comes to collecting, but that every single one of us has a guilty pleasure or two that other collectors might see as silly or downright foolish. Whatever you want to call it, I have no shame in admitting that I love manufactured patch cards. Manufactured patches are hit-or-miss among most collectors, and I like how polarizing they are. There is very little gray area when it comes to them, collectors either love them or hate them.

My fascination with them began in 2008 when I was getting reacquainted with the landscape of the card industry following a hiatus from collecting. Among the first Felix Hernandez cards that I bought for my personal collection were his 2008 UD Premier Stitchings manufactured patches. The logo inside these cards was very well designed, and in Mariners colors as well.

The first Seattle Mariners card I ever fell in love with was obviously the 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr.. The second was Alex Rodriguez’s 1994 Flair RC. The third card in that list is one from a set that most collectors are probably much less familiar with. When I first saw the 2007 Upper Deck Black Pride of a Nation set, I thought it was one of the most unique sets I had ever seen.  I was 22 years old at the time and didn’t have a lot of money, but I was able to strike a deal with a collector via a forum and in four $25 weekly paypal payments I was the owner of this beautiful piece of cardboard:

I think that when done right, a well-designed manufactured patch or logo card is better than most authentic game used swatch jersey cards. Don’t get me wrong, there is no substitute for a sick patch, laundry tag, or logoman. But take a look at the below series of cards and tell me which one appeals to you more:

Ok fine, maybe don’t answer that last one, because as far as I’m concerned the Babe Ruth Jumbo from Tools of the Trade is the pinnacle of jersey cards. It goes without saying that most of the time we would much rather have a historical piece of the game over a manufactured patch, so my theory doesn’t exactly apply to legends and Hall of Fame players. Which creates an interesting question. I prefer the manufactured patches of Tim Lincecum and Peyton Manning shown above now, but what about fifty years from now? Will the overproduced jersey and patch cards of today’s greats be coveted or as remotely desirable as some of present day in-demand Hall of Fame memorabilia cards such as 1/1 bat knobs and the  Babe Ruth that I shared above?

Card manufacturers will need to continually innovate as they roll out new products, parallels and cards that are intended to draw the interest of new collectors. For some lifelong collectors, flagship Topps Series 1 or the Young Guns RC’s in Upper Deck Series 1 hockey is more than enough to keep them ripping wax on a yearly basis. But as long as the demand remains for unique cards, the rat race of latest and greatest goes on. I think that manufactured patches, rings, and relics offer a solid creative outlet for them to continue to produce some unique additions to the hobby.

To wrap up the first installment of ‘The Good Word’, I felt compelled to share some of my personal favorite cards featuring manufactured materials. Enjoy!

Rich Reminisces: Everything Old is New Again

How about that old axiom, everything old is new again? A few months a good friend of mine and head of the local SABR chapter here in the Dallas-Fort Worth area was giving a talk on his favorite childhood team, the 1950 Philadelphia Phillies and the Whiz Kids. During the conversation, he mentioned how Jim Konstanty, who pitched in 74 games that season, nearly half the team’s games, had an undertaker he knew back home working on ensuring the baseball spun enough.

Today we talk about spin rate for pitchers, but did you know that even back in 1950 they understood that how a ball spun was important? While there are no cards created of that hometown friend of his, we do have plenty of Konstanty cards. So yes, they were aware of spin rate way back when.

Recently, one of my friends posted on Facebook about Babe Ruth facing a shift back in 1919. We all may have thought the shift was created by Lou Boudreau to neutralize Ted Williams power, but instead they had tried shifts nearly 30 years prior.

In the same theme, I was reading in USA Today about how the 1963 Army-Navy game featured the birth of Instant Replay. Well, not so much because it might not have been called instant replay, but when Roger Maris hit this then record-breaking 61st homer in the 1961 season, the play was supposedly repeated almost immediately. While we’ll never know the true first time instant replay was used, the most famous usage of the term came in 1967 when Bart Starr scored on a quarterback sneak behind Ken Bowman and Jerry Kramer. Kramer kept a diary of his 1967 season and because that play was so famous, his tome would be titled Instant Replay. Kramer took his fame, and although his Hall of Fame induction was delayed way longer than it should have been, he is finally enshrined in Canton

Of course, it’s a shame that there is no card of this play, or any card at the time of the Hail Mary pass from Roger Staubach to Drew Pearson, or so many other great plays. Those seem like truly missed opportunities. My one suggestion to card companies is to be more alert for future great plays and get those saved on cards. Not just on sets such as Topps Now or Panini Instant, but in the base sets as well so we can always relive our memories. I’m still upset to this day that after the 1975 World Series Topps no longer did their game-by-game reviews, but instead gave the greatest series of my lifetime up to that point such short shrift.

Although it is nice to have the shot of Fisk coming to the dugout as part of this card, but geez, I was upset then and today about how little that Game 6 was honored.

And yes, even in the card world. everything old is new again and still not keeping up with history.

Rich Klein can be reached at Richklein@Comc.com

Rich Reminisces: 1969-70 New York Knicks Team

Some people don’t like to admit their age or how long they have been doing various aspects of their life. On the other hand, I am proud to say that I’ve been following sports for more than 50 years now. Obviously, one does not always give today’s players the same respect as they do to the ones from their youth.

A few months ago, I watched the entire first half without interruption of a Warriors/Cavaliers NBA finals game and was struck by just how great of a team the Golden State Warriors are. That is correct, they play as a great team even if one of their players gets so hot for a game because they let them explode. Witness the Klay Thompson NBA record 14 three-pointers recently. Somehow, that record reminded me of the game Kevin McHale scored 56 points for a Boston Celtics record, only to inspire Larry Bird to post a 60 point game just nine days later. It makes you wonder if Steph Curry will be going for 15 three pointers in a few games.

Of course, in those 1980’s days there were not enough cards issued for anyone to commemorate those games. Today, we’d have a Panini Instant card and then another one issued a few days later. Since we don’t have any of those for the Celtics, how about a nice Kevin McHale Rookie Card instead? That nine-day interim between those two events reminded me of how the WWF (now WWE) passed the Heavyweight Championship torch from Pedro Morales to Bruno Sammartino. Since you could not have a good guy defeat another good guy, you had to have an interim champion. Well for nine whole days, Stan “The Man” Stasiuk was the WWF champion until Bruno pinned him.

Hey, anytime I can digress and mention Stan “The Man” Stasiak, it’s a good day. But back to the real point, the Warriors remind me of the New York Knicks team of my youth, of which they were renowned for their team play. There is a famous clip from Game 7 of the 1970 NBA finals versus the Los Angeles Lakers in which each player gets passed the ball and there was not a dribble during the sequence. Of course the whole Game 7 began with the famed “Is Willis Reed going to be able to play” discussion in New York. No one knew until Willis came out of the runway dressed in his warm-ups and ready to attempt to play. The entrance of Willis Reed is one of the great moments in NBA history. Topps only had one player to put on a card for each game and as you will see they had good reason to choose their selection for Game 7.
However, there is a NBA finals card of Reed, but it features Game 1 action.
Note: the other player featured on this card is Jerry West, known as the player the NBA Logo is modeled on.
After Reed hit his first two shots in the opening minute of Game 7 he never scored another point, but the Lakers were so demoralized they never were really in the game. The Knicks were led by Walt “Clyde” Frazier who had 36 points, 19 assists, 7 rebounds, and a few steals. Steals were not an NBA stat then so those were not officially recognized, but he had a few that night.
The other Knicks player in the picture is “Dollar” Bill Bradley, who was quite famous in his own right because of his NCAA experience. Bradley had a few short years prior set an NCAA record while at Princeton with 58 points in a tournament game. He also later became an U.S. Senator from New Jersey.
The other two starters were Dave DeBusschere, who was such as a baseball pitching prospect that the Chicago White Sox protected him and let Denny McLain be exposed in a draft. The Tigers took McLain, but before he flamed out, he became the last pitcher to win 30 games in a season. With what teams are doing today, there are many who will not even have ONE starter start that many games, and thus McLain will be the last pitcher with 30 wins in a season for a long time indeed.

By the way, this rookie card featuring DeBusshere and others as floating heads is a cool card in that it was issued in 1963, but Topps had first series issues and just as many of us have difficulties getting used to a new year, Topps still thought it was 1962 when they were beginning their 1963 set. This was corrected reasonably early to reflect the correct year.

The final starter was Dick Barnett, who had a jump shot with his legs going in an almost question mark design, and also loved to say “Fall Back Baby” whenever he shot. By the way, with everything else gong on in Game 7, Barnett chipped in with 21 points very quietly.

One aspect about sports in New York around 1970 was that the world was seemingly revolving around getting books out about the Jets, Mets and Knicks, who within an 18-month period all won their first championship. There was even a commercial featuring the Knicks subs getting pulled from the starting lineup because they had dandruff. I could not find that commercial, but you’ll have to trust me that it was made.

And for those of you who want to devote about 90 minutes of so of your life and see what real team game NBA basketball once was, here is a YouTube video of the famed game 7:

Thanks for reading and we’ll see you again real soon with another reminisces or two about days past and present

Rich Klein can be reached at RichKlein@Comc.com

BEST OF 2018: Behind the Cards: The Fred Hutchinson Story

As 2018 comes to a close, we want to take a moment to look back at one of our very favorite posts that we have ever shared on the COMC Blog. A long time COMC user graciously submitted this incredible career retrospective of Fred Hutchinson. We’re hoping to be able to share his writing with as many sports fan as possible. This story was originally published on 03/09/2018 and is presented in it’s entirety in this blog as well

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(Note from COMC: The following post comes to us from the desk of Stan Opdyke, a lifelong fan of the game of baseball who started collecting cards over 60 years ago. He has an affinity for the Baltimore Orioles, his favorite team in his youngest days. Through his involvement in the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Mr. Opdyke was inspired to research and write this brilliant look at the cards produced by the life and times of Fred Hutchinson. If you would like to submit your article to us for consideration to be published on our blog, please email us at staff@comc.com.)

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Fred Hutchinson

Fred Hutchinson, at the age of 18, began his professional baseball career in 1938 as a pitcher for his hometown Seattle Rainiers of the Pacific Coast League. Baseball cards were relatively scarce items at the time, at least in comparison to what they would become after World War ll, so unsurprisingly no baseball card of Hutch was produced in his first professional season.

Hutch was sensational for the Rainiers in 1938. Pitching most of the season as an 18 year old, Hutch compiled a 25-7 won/loss record and a 2.48 ERA. On his 19th birthday on August 12, 1938, he pitched before a standing room crowd at Seattle’s Sick’s Stadium in search of his 19th victory. Hutch got the win in a game that stands with the Edgar Martinez double that defeated the Yankees in the 1995 post season as one of the most iconic baseball games ever played in Seattle.

Hutch’s superb season drew the attention of major league teams and one of the two major producers of baseball cards in the 1930’s. On December 12, 1938, the Seattle Rainiers traded Fred Hutchinson to the Detroit Tigers for four players and $50,000 Depression era dollars. The huge outlay of cash undoubtedly influenced the Goudey gum company to include Hutch in its 1939 Premium set. The other major baseball card manufacturer of the era, Play Ball, did not issue a card of Hutch in 1939. 

1939 Fred Hutchinson Goudey Premium

The 1939 Goudey Premiums are listed in the 2013 Standard Catalogue of Vintage Baseball Cards in two distinct series, R303-A and R303-B. The R303-A cards are slightly smaller but otherwise identical to the R303-B cards. Both series of 1939 Goudey Premiums are unnumbered. Hutch appears in the 303-A series. The 1939 Goudey Premiums are baseball cards in that they were issued by a gum company and depict images of baseball players. However, in other ways they are not like baseball cards at all. The smaller sized 303-A cards still measure a very large 4 inches x 6 3/16 inches, far too large to fit in anyone’s shirt pocket. The Goudey Premiums also differ from typical baseball cards because they are printed on paper stock that is about the thickness of a newspaper page. The 1939 Goudey Premiums have the look and feel of a small poster.

The photograph Goudey selected to use of Hutch is a portrait of a teenager sporting a warm grin. It is a rare photo of a smiling Fred Hutchinson. When he grew older, Hutch was given the nicknames “The Bear” and “Old Stoneface,” quite a contrast to the photo on his 1939 Goudey Premium card.

Hutch struggled in 1939.  His trouble began in Spring Training when he lost the ability to throw strikes. His lack of control would have undoubtedly cost him a major league roster spot had the Tigers not invested so much money in him. However, because of the huge cash outlay, Hutch began the 1939 season in the major leagues.

Hutch made his major league debut in one of the most significant games in baseball history. The New York Yankees played against the Tigers in Detroit on May 2, 1939, and for the first time since May 31, 1925, the name of the legendary Lou Gehrig did not appear in a regular season box score. The Yankees scored early and often without Gehrig in the line-up. With the Tigers trailing 13-0, Hutch was brought into the game by Tiger manager Del Baker. Nothing went right for Hutch. Pitching just two-thirds of an inning, he surrendered four hits, five walks and eight earned runs.

Hutch was sent to the minor league Buffalo Bisons of the International League after his disastrous major league debut. His traditional pitching numbers (won/loss and ERA) were better in Buffalo than in Detroit, but in both the major and minor leagues in 1939, his performance significantly lagged the excellent season he had for Seattle in the Pacific Coast League in 1938.

1940 Team Issued Fred Hutchinson Buffalo Bisons card

Hutch’s demotion to the minor leagues led to his second appearance on a baseball card. In 1940 the Buffalo Bisons issued a team set of baseball cards. The 1940 Bisons cards are printed on thicker paper and are much smaller then the 1939 Goudey Premium cards. The unnumbered 1940 Bisons Fred Hutchinson card shows him winding up as if he is about to deliver a pitch. The photograph was obviously staged because the picture was taken on the grass in front of a dugout rather than on a pitcher’s mound.

Hutch pitched for both Buffalo and Detroit in 1940.  Detroit won the American League pennant in 1940 and Hutch was included on the Tigers World Series roster. He pitched one World Series inning against a team he would one day manage, the Cincinnati Reds. He allowed one walk, one hit and one earned run.

In 1941 Hutch, pitching for the Buffalo Bisons, turned in a performance reminiscent of his sensational 1938 season in the Pacific Coast League. He won 26 games for Buffalo in 1941 and in 284 innings he turned in an excellent 2.44 ERA. With such a stellar season behind him, Hutch seemed destined to earn a spot on the Tigers major league roster in 1942. World War II however intervened.

Hutch enlisted in the Navy shortly before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He served in the Navy’s physical education program. Hutch pitched for Navy teams in Norfolk, VA, Seattle, WA, and Hawaii, so during the war he was able to keep his baseball skills sharp.

The baseball players who served in the military in World War II returned en masse to organized baseball in 1946. Hutch was part of the 1946 waive of ex-servicemen returning to professional baseball.  He spent the entire year in 1946 with the Detroit Tigers. It was the first time he spent a full season in the major leagues.

1991 Reprint of 1947 Tip Top Bread Fred Hutchinson Card

In 1947 Hutch appeared for the first time on a post war baseball card. The Tip Top Baking Company issued several regional baseball card sets in 1947 to promote the sale of Tip Top Bread. The unnumbered cards feature black and white pictures with the player’s name, position, team and league affiliation printed underneath the photo. Hutch’s Tip Top Bread card features a close up portrait of him wearing a Detroit Tigers cap.

In 1948 Hutch did not appear on a baseball card. In 1949 two gum manufacturers, Bowman and Leaf, produced baseball cards of Hutch. Fred Hutchinson’s 1949 Leaf card is his highest priced card. The 1949 Leaf set is extremely difficult to complete. About half the cards in the set are short printed and Hutch’s card is among the short printed cards. His 1949 Leaf card in excellent condition is worth $900.00. By way of comparison two other Hutch cards that are also difficult to find, his 1939 Goudey Premium card and his 1947 Tip Top Bread card, have much lower prices. His Goudey Premium card in excellent condition lists at $75.00 and his 1947 Tip Top Bread card in excellent condition lists at $150.00. (All prices are from the 2013 Standard Catalogue of Vintage Baseball Cards.)

In 1950, Bowman was the only gum company to produce baseball cards. Hutch is included in the 1950 Bowman set. His 1950 Bowman card is derived from a painting that was transformed into a baseball card. The painting depicts Hutch at the very end of his follow through after delivery of a pitch. Bowman got good mileage out of the painting because they used again in 1951. That same year, Hutch was named to the American League All Star team. He pitched three innings in the 1951 mid-summer classic.

In 1952 Hutch made his first appearance on a Topps card. Topps produced its first baseball card set a year earlier, but in its initial set the company did not issue a card of Fred Hutchinson.  Topps made up for its 1951 omission by producing a magnificent card of Hutch in the 1952 set. Bowman again used a painting to create the front of its baseball cards. The artist hired to paint Fred Hutchinson must have noticed the look on Hutch’s face after he had surrendered a long home run.

The Tigers had a miserable year in 1952, almost as miserable as the look on Hutch’s face on his 1952 Bowman card. On July 5th, with the club in last place, Tiger manager Red Rolfe was fired and Hutch was hired to replace him. Hutch remained on the Tigers active playing roster after he took over as manager. He continued in his dual role as a player and a manager in 1953.

Both Topps and Bowman included a card of Hutch in their 1953 sets. Topps took a page from Bowman by using a painting as the template for the front of its 1953 cards. Bowman emulated Topps by issuing a larger baseball card in 1953 than it had produced from 1948 to 1952. (Bowman did not issue a card of Hutch in 1948).  The 1953 Bowman set is considered by most collectors as one of the best baseball card sets ever produced. Hutch’s 1953 Bowman card is representative of the picture quality that exists throughout the set.

Hutch retired as an active player after the 1953 season.  He managed the Tigers for one year after retiring as a player. Neither Topps nor Bowman included managers in their 1954 sets, so 1954 marked the first time since 1948 that Fred Hutchinson did not appear on a baseball card.
After the 1954 season ended Hutch informed the Tigers he wanted a two year contract. The Tigers refused to offer more than one year. The impasse led to Hutch’s departure from Detroit when he refused to sign the one year contact he was offered.

Hutch was out of a job, but he was not out of baseball. In 1955 he returned to his hometown to manage the Seattle Rainiers to a Pacific Coast League pennant.  A year before Hutch”s arrival, the Rainiers began issuing baseball cards to fans who purchased popcorn at the team’s home games. Seattle minor league teams issued popcorn cards every year from 1954 through 1968.  It is hardly surprising that Hutch, the popular hometown manager, was included in the popcorn cards the team produced in 1955.

In 1956 Hutch returned to the major leagues to manage the St Louis Cardinals.  Topps was the only gum company that manufactured baseball cards during the three years Hutch managed the Cardinals.

Topps did not issue a card of Hutch while he managed in St. Louis. Topps  included few cards of managers in the sets it produced from 1956 to 1958. Brooklyn’s Walt Alston and Philadelphia’s Mayo Smith were the only managers Topps included in its 1956 set.  No managers were included in the 1957 set. In 1958 Topps issued only two cards of managers, a card of Reds manager Birdie Tebbetts with two of his players, Frank Robinson and Ed Bailey, and a card on which managers Casey Stengel and Fred Haney appeared together.

Hutch enjoyed some success with the Cardinals. In 1957, St. Louis finished in second place, fueling expectations that the team would contend for the pennant in 1958. However in 1958 the Cardinals played poorly, and as a consequence, Hutch was fired shortly before the 1958 season ended.

In 1959 Hutch returned to Seattle to once again manage the Rainiers. His second stint with the club lasted only three months. He was in town long enough though to appear in the 1959 edition of Seattle Rainiers popcorn cards.

In the middle of the 1959 season, Cincinnati Reds manager Mayo Smith was fired. Hutch was chosen to replace him.  Hutch managed the Cincinnati Reds to a 1961 World Series appearance. As was customary, he served as the National League All Star manager the following year. As a result of managing in the 1962 All Star game, Hutch became one of about a dozen men in baseball history (Hank Bauer, Yogi Berra and Alvin Dark are a few of the others) to manage and play in a World Series and manage and play in an All Star game.

Hutch remained the manager of the Reds until deteriorating health caused him to take a leave of absence in 1964. Hutch appeared in each baseball card set Topps produced from 1960 through 1964.

In late December of 1963 Hutch was diagnosed with cancer. He died of the disease eleven months after he was diagnosed. Between diagnosis and death, Hutch managed the Cincinnati Reds for most of the 1964 season. The determination and courage Hutch displayed during his last baseball season is told by Bruce Markusen in his excellent Hardball Times article, available online, “The Final Year of Fred Hutchinson’s Life.”

Hutch resigned as the manager of the Reds in a letter he sent to team owner Bill DeWitt dated October 11, 1964. Exactly one month later he died in Bradenton, Florida.

What’s a Few More Years?

Before the three Seahawks Super Bowl appearances from 2006-2015, and the rise of the Seattle Sounders FC, the city of Seattle was once an energetic baseball town.  The phrase “Refuse to Lose” swept through Washington state in 1995 as an unlikely Seattle Mariners team made a historic playoff push that fell short to the Cleveland Indians in the ALCS. The magic of that season carried over for many years to come, and while that particular era of the Mariners never achieved success greater than that 1995 season, a message was delivered to a faithful Mariners fan base: This team can contend.

I talk highly about our past so that I can disappoint you with the present. For the past 17 seasons, Mariners fans have slowly watched the magic of the 1990’s disappear with each failed attempt to make the playoffs. It took a record breaking 116-win season, a Manager of the Year in Lou Piniella, and an MVP and Rookie of the Year performance from Ichiro Suzuki for the last Mariner’s team to make the playoffs, falling short to the New York Yankees in the 2001 ALCS. The organization has not won more than 93 games in a year since and have only had seven .500 or better seasons during their playoff drought.

Being a die hard Mariners fan is like living in a perpetual state of Ralph Wiggum from The Simpsons. Queue the Memes…

To offer perspective of how long those 17 years have been, here is a short list of things that have happened in that time frame:

  • Apple’s stock price rose from $1 (Oct 2001) to $180 (Nov 2018)
  • Professors and Trainers have discovered 556 new species of Pokemon, bringing the total number of Pokemon from 251 (2001) to 807 (2018).
  • Lebron James went from 0 career points to fifth most in NBA history.
  • John Cena has won 16 World Championships in the WWE.
  • COMC was founded and has processed 58 million cards and counting.

The failures of the franchise have compounded over the better part of the last two decades. At this point, it’s nearly impossible to point the finger at any one point in time as the definitive reason why the team has yet to earn so much as a wildcard spot. First, the team couldn’t win with big free agent signings like Richie Sexson and Adrian Beltre. Then the team couldn’t get it done by trading prized prospects for pitchers who under performed. And most depressingly, the team couldn’t so much as come close to one single playoff appearance through the rise and fall of a King’s career.

So here we are in the cold winter months before the 2019 season, and a tear down of a team that won 89 games but finished 3rd in the A.L. West following a “That’s so Mariners” collapse is underway. Mike Zunino is gone, leaving a void behind the plate. ‘Big Maple’ James Paxton is now in the Big Apple, and Justus Sheffield is the latest name in a long laundry list of pitching prospects that we are told to believe will bring playoff baseball back to Seattle. Off the top of my head, here’s some other names on that list of pitchers who we were promised would bring us back to the post season:

Travis Blackley, Matt Thornton, Phillipe Aumont, Brandon Morrow, Brandon Mauer, Doug Fister, Danny Hultzen, Taijuan Walker, and Michael Pineda. 

For fans of teams that are perpetual contenders, the winter months are an exciting time of speculation and imagination.

“Which free agents will my team sign?”

“Who’s available that we can trade for that will make an immediate impact?” 

For Mariners fans however, the actions of “Trader” Jerry Dipoto cannot be predicted, outside of the guaranteed two or more swaps a year with the Tampa Bay Rays. Will he crack open the piggy bank? Will he take on another project player who maybe just needs a change of scenery to live up to their potential? Though the fear, doubt and uncertainty of a cruel history of losing will always linger in the background, the Mariners fan base will always be optimistic that management is leading the franchise in the right direction. After all, Jerry was the guy who signed Mike Trout to a six year deal through 2020 with the Angels right?

“But James, he also gave Josh Hamilton $120 million in 2012 and Albert Pujols a 10-year /$240mil deal at age 32.”

Oh yeah. As I said, lingering doubt.

Would you trust this man with your franchise?

I’ve got to say, living in the perpetual fear that any player on your favorite team can be traded has been one of the most trying and mentally exhausting experience as a fan that I’ve faced while aboard the S.S. Mariner. Closer Edwin Diaz chased K-Rod’s magic number of 62 saves, coming up short at 57 (in an 89-win season mind you), but still had one of the most dominate seasons ever as a closer.  He’s likely gone, especially in a climate where lights out closers yield a huge premium. Mitch Haniger, an emerging superstar and offensive spark plug over the last two years, as well as my personal favorite player since the golden era of “Big Time Timmy JimTim Lincecum, could also be on his way out for a strong yield of prospects. While the salary dump of Robinson Cano, Dee Gordon, Kyle Seager, and Felix Hernandez would be welcomed, the thought of not resigning Nelson Cruz and watching him tee off against the M’s while wearing an Astros uniform is downright frightening. And then there’s Ryon Healy, Ben Gamel, Dan Vogelbach, and Jean Segura, who could all be on the move before having their fair chance to win as Mariners.

“To win as Mariners.” Heh. I don’t even know what that means anymore. The Yankees and Red Sox have taught us that you can buy your way to the post-season. The Marlins have taught us that you can draft your way to the World Series. Most recently, the Astros have taught us that you can tear it all down and rebuild your way to Post Season excellence. But it doesn’t appear the Mariners are committing 100% to any single one of those tried and true methods. The only thing that is for certain in the team’s future is that Ichiro, the last connection remaining to a Mariners team that made the playoffs, will suit up in an M’s uniform in 2019 at play at the age of 45 when the Mariners and Athletics open the season in Japan next March.

The Mariners are a lot like that toy that you really wanted all year and finally got on Christmas Morning, only to realize it was damaged. No one can seem to find the receipt, so it can’t be returned, but your Dad is certain that he can fix it. I don’t know if it will be a Christmas Miracle this year that will make or break baseball in Seattle, but we’re this deep in, so what’s a few more years?

Rich Reminisces: 1962 Mets

I mentioned in my previous column about how much I enjoy the YouTube page “Classic Baseball on the Radio“. While they have some games such as the World Series and All-Star games that you would expect them to have, the regular season games they also have are sometimes famous in their own right. One of those games is from the 1962 New York Mets season. Now when a team loses 120 games in a season, usually the fans leave in droves. But because those Mets were so lovable, they actually drew more fans than you would expect, considering how bad they were and the Polo Grounds location.

I say all that because there is a 1962 Mets/Cubs game saved which actually had two memorable moments before the 1st inning was even concluded. I had read about one of those moments when I was very young, but never knew it was not an apocryphal story, while the other was noted but still difficult to believe. By the way, last article’s subject Roger Craig does not appear in this game. In case you want the spoiler, here is the Retrosheet recap of the game on June 17, 1962.

The first of those two events occurred in the top of the 1st inning. You see a Cubs rookie by the name of Lou Brock deposited a homer into the Polo Grounds center-field bleachers.

Now it may not seem like hitting a homer into the bleachers is so special, but remember just eight years earlier, the most famous catch in baseball history occurred in those vast expanses of the Polo Grounds. If you have not seen this play and are a baseball fan at all, I’m shocked. The most amazing aspect of this catch was not just how far Willie Mays  ran to catch the ball, but the amazing spin and throw immediately afterwards. There was a runner on second base and despite how far the ball was slugged, the runner only got to third base.

Mays was such a great center fielder for so many years. More than 15 years later this next catch occurred. In some ways, this is a harder catch than the more famous effort:

The great aspect of the 1954 catch is how it is immortalized on this 1959 Topps card:

But going back to Mr. Brock, while today we think of him as a singles hitter who accumulated more than 3,000 hits in his career, during those early stages he would constantly be in double digits for doubles, triples and homers. During the 1967 season, which may have been his best season, Brock garnered 65 extra base hits, with 21 of those having left the ballpark.

He continued his hot hitting in the 1967 World Series, leading the Cardinals to their second World Championship in just four seasons. This 1968 card show his effect on those games:

When he retired,Brock had set the record for most career stolen bases. He was later elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

With that, the top of the first has been concluded but the real fun stuff occurs in the bottom of the first inning. As we noted, those 1962 Mets were on their way to 120 losses, and among their highlights they never won a game on a Thursday that season. While Roger Craig is the Dallas COMC official player, the most popular player on those Mets was a man named Marvin Eugene Throneberry whose initials spelled out MET. Somehow that all seemed appropriate as Marv was a decent player until he got to the Mets and then just imploded as a player.

Sadly, although some of the later additions to the 1962 Mets are immortalized on cardboard, we would have to wait until 1963 for Marv to receive his Mets card. Why is this 1962 game important to Marv’s legend? You see, in legging out a triple, Marv missed both first and second base on his way to third. When the appeal play at second worked, famed manager Casey Stengel went out to challenge the call, but one of the umpires informed him he also missed first base. The radio broadcast and retrosheet actually verifies this seemingly impossibility. Now, as a fledgling dealer in the 1980’s, I would have loved to have seen Marv on a 1962 card for today’s affordability reasons. I’m kind of glad he has attainable 1963 cards instead.

And almost 60 years later, having proof of both of these events saved on tape showed what I had heard about as a young child but always assumed was not true when it came to “Marvelous Marv”.  Thankfully Marv had a nice renaissance in his later years as he became one of the famed Miller Lite spokesmen. While he passed at the early age of 60, Marv is still a beloved figure for those who liked those early Mets teams.

Rich Klein can be reached at RichKlein@Comc.com