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

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

Rich Reminisces: Roger Craig

One of the great aspects of my role with COMC is the freedom I have within my office. The way I’m able to work is with an oldies-based internet radio station, old radio air-checks, or old sports radio broadcast playing just about at all times. Of course, I do turn them off for the occasional work meeting or other important aspect, but since I’m in an office by myself most of the time, some background noise is very appreciated.

Out of all those sports radio broadcast stations available on sites such as youtube, my personal favorite is “Classic Baseball on the Radio:” This user posts exactly what his name is, which is old radio broadcasts, which have been preserved in many cases for more than 60 years. The person got most of his air checks from a person who lived in Upstate New York and thus the vast majority of the games are either New York Yankees or New York Mets games. Since I grew up watching those two teams, albeit a few years later than these recordings, there is a great pleasure in hearing about those players one never saw being brought to life.

In my GTS column, I have mentioned the work that the great Raymond Jones has done in helping us with the Adat Chaverim show. Raymond comes up whenever I receive a new donation and takes boxes with him to see if he can make sets based on what he notices in those boxes. I think Raymond made 20-30 sets for us for the last show and also did some yeoman work in verifying sets were actually complete. I mention Raymond because for a good 2-3 months Roger Craig seemed to be on the mound (or would come on in relief) in every Mets game. We’ll go through his career later, but yes, he pitched in a time when many starters would come in for an appearance. Try that in today’s baseball world and you would hear screams from every executive. For fun, check out Lefty Grove‘s statistics some time on Baseball Reference. You will see some interesting categories he led the league in during the same season.

So for those reasons, we agreed Roger Craig should be the official baseball player of the DFW COMC office. The only other athlete we (actually I) considered for this honor was WWE Superstar Alexa Bliss. Raymond and myself have a running conversation about whether we prefer ‘The Godess’ Ms. Bliss, or his favorite, ‘The Empress of Tomorrow” Asuka. If you have never seen this bit entitled a Moment of Bliss from a recent WWE Raw episode, you are missing the development of a future actress. Note how easily she delivers the line comparing herself to Nelson Mandela, or discussing herself as a 7-year old goddess while building up a match against rival Trish Stratus. She actually has a future in Hollywood if she does desire:

And now that we have finished with our digression about Ms. Bliss (and who would really object to focusing on her?), let’s return to Roger Craig. Roger’s rookie card are in the 1956 Topps set, and yes there are two versions available (White and Grey back). Those cards are very affordable and show the stats of someone who did help the Brooklyn Dodgers win their only World Series the previous season.

Roger would continue to be part of the Dodgers organization for the next several years. His best year as a Dodger was probably in 1959 when he tossed four shutouts to lead the National League and garnered the only MVP votes of his career. But after the 1961 season, his career would turn, and not in the best way. Whilst he only spent two seasons with the expansion New York Mets, he compiled an 15-46 record. Now the saying goes you have to be a pretty good pitcher to lose 20 games in a season, so he must have been a great pitcher to do that in consecutive seasons. Here is his first Topps card as a Met and just as with the 1956 card there are two varieties. We are picturing the Green Tint Topps card in the card on the right.

A side note on 62 Green Tints: When I was collecting a master 1962 Topps set way back in the day, it took me forever to get a Moose Skowron green tint card. To me, that card was probably harder to acquire than the now well-known 1961 short print Skowron card. But I think the bemused expression on Craig’s face presaged his next two seasons.

At the end of the 1962 season, Craig was sent to the St. Louis Cardinals and as if the gods were shining down, Craig pitched on another World Championship team.

Frankly, by the conclusion of the 1964 season, Roger’s career was pretty much concluded. He did spend the 1965-66 seasons with two different NL teams and completed his career shortly after his 35th birthday. His final card as a player was a 1966 Topps High Number which does make sense, since by that time in his career Topps was not always sure he would make a major league roster. As Sy Berger would note, Topps usually had a pretty good concept of who would make the team coming out of spring training. Not perfect, but pretty darn good for that era

But we are not done with Mr. Craig. Roger ended up as a baseball lifer and spent almost a quarter-century as either a pitching coach or a manager. He was the pitching coach for the 1964 World Champion Detroit Tigers and managed the 1989 San Francisco Giants to the World Series.

Here is a really cool Mother’s Cookies Roger Craig card with him in a traditional managerial pose:

Roger has continued to have cards issued almost to the present day. A few years ago, Topps Heritage included him in their 2015 Real One Autographs insert set. As they have done a “reprint” final year card was created so the player could autograph those cards for random placement in packs.

 

Quite a life for the nearly 90 year old Roger Craig and we are happy to show you some of the cards of Mr. Craig, the official baseball player of the COMC DFW office.

I would love to hear your comments and your suggestions for future blog post subjects. Reach me by email with your thoughts at RichKlein@comc.com.

Rich’s Reminiscences: Bobby Bonilla

For those members of the COMC Nation who are not familiar with me, my name is Rich Klein and my current role in the hobby is that of a catalog maintenance expert for COMC. In performing this job, I see cool cards, many of which I have never seen before, and sometimes they trigger a thought about how interesting a card or a set really is. I’ve been in this hobby since the late 1970’s and set up at my first show at Montclair State College in New Jersey in 1979. Since then I’ve done just about everything in this business, and in terms or writing I’ve published had Rich’s Ramblings for Sports Collectors Daily for several years, and currently write a monthly column for GTS. These posts, as noted, will be about specific cards and/or sets, and we would prefer these posts be based on your suggestions rather than just what I think is interesting. I always credit our users and contributors and am grateful for anything you might send our way.

Now that was a long-winded way of saying: Welcome! This column was triggered by a card I saw yesterday while doing basic catalog work. The card which triggered this was a 1983 TCMA minor league card of Roberto Bonilla. We, of course, know him today as Bobby Bonilla, and every July 1st is lovingly known as Bobby Bonilla day because he receives more than one million dollars on said date each year. However, 35 years ago, he was just a young kid from the Bronx and we used his full name…

Bobby was such a prospect that when the Pirates lost him to the White Sox in the 1985 Rule 5 Amateur Draft, they traded one of their best pitching prospects midway through the 1986 season to bring him back to Pittsburgh. There he teamed up with fellow 1986 rookie Barry Bonds to lead the Pirates back to the playoffs after being dormant throughout the 1980’s. Those late 1980’s-early 1990’s Pirate teams were always knocking on the door but never quite made the World Series. Not that Bonilla had anything to do with this play, but this Sid Bream slide showed just how close the Pirates would come to the promised land:

By that point, Bonilla was already a member of the Mets, and the Pirates dismantling had just begun. Bonilla would bounce around a bit for the rest of his career but would still be an important player for the rest of the decade. In 1994, on the eve of the baseball strike, He offered to show a New York media personality the Bronx he grew up in. There was another incident as well which is still well know in the New York area:

But there were happier moments as well: If you watch the highlights of Cal Ripken Jr.‘s famed trot around the field after playing in his 2131st consecutive game, Bonilla is one of the players pushing him out of the dugout so he can enjoy the moment, and then two scant years later, Bonilla was a starter for the 1997 World Champions Florida Marlins. That is an honor his good friend, Barry Bonds was never able to enjoy. As his career wound down, the Mets asked to defer his salary at eight percent interest and pay him over a 25 year period between 2011 and 2035. So, this young kid from the Bronx who we originally knew as Roberto Bonilla, we now know today as Bobby Bonilla, patron saint of bad contracts. Quite a ride over those 35 years indeed.

I would love to hear your comments and your suggestions for future blog post subjects. Reach me by email with your thoughts at RichKlein@comc.com.