Rich Reminiscences: New York Life in the 70’s.

by Rich Klein

If you have ever spent any time in waiting rooms, the odds are pretty good the television station was playing HGTV. The reason is pretty simple: these programs are designed to appeal to everyone, and have no political or religious viewpoints which might upset some of the patients or guests waiting. 

Recently, the house which was used for the Brady Bunch series was purchased by that network, and all the living members of the cast have reunited as part of a series titled: “A Very Brady Renovation”. I should point out there is no mention if Cousin Oliver is going to show up near the end of the production.

But what this really proves to all of us is that we still long for the memories of seeing what appeared to be a perfect family, which for years was part of the pre-cable world, and seemingly always in reruns somewhere on our daily television dial.  We do have the memories of the original show, just as we’re also fortunate to have our memories from the sports world (some of which were kept and are still available) of our youth.

Growing up in the New York Metropolitan area in the 1970’s, we were always enthralled by the exploits of the New York Yankees and seemingly everyone in the organization, including the boisterous owner, George M. Steinbrenner. Since the Yankees were one of the best teams of baseball from 1976-81, and had all those personalities, let’s take a look back at some of the fun we had in New York in those days. 

Here’s some footage of George Steinbrenner in the early days, including the introductory press conferences.  Look how uncomfortable Mike Burke, the previous Yankees head honcho is during Steinbrenner’s speech.


For the next couple of decades Steinbrenner continued to be embroiled in controversy, and was actually suspended from baseball twice in his first two decades as the Yankees owner. The first time was for improper political donations, and the second was when Steinbrenner was involved in a scandal where he was trying to dig up dirt on Hall of Famer Dave Winfield.   Here is some audio of John Sterling, who has been a Yankees announcer for the past 30 years (albeit, he took some much deserved time off this year) breaking the news of the 1990 decision.


Of course, 1990 was such a fine season for the Yankees that Andy Hawkins pitched a no-hitter (at least according to the rules of the time) and lost on an error by Jesse Barfield.  But I digress.

Billy Martin as Yankees Manager


Although Steinbrenner hired and fired managers like a grandparent handing out cookies, the manager who kept recurring in the first 15 years of his rule was Billy Martin. Now, there might have never been anyone who loved being a Yankee more than Martin, and how he put up with indignities big and small to keep in George’s good graces was legendary. Billy had plenty of his issues, as he never met a punch he did not like to throw, or a drink he could pass up. That combo led to some interesting experiences and interesting publicized stories.  Without delving too far into details, let’s just say Billy enjoyed the not-so-quiet night life and debauchery a little too much.

So instead of writing of such events on this blog, here is a newspaper account of some of the Yankees highlights of his off-field exploits. This does not even mention the barroom fight he got in with Baseball in 1969 while managing the Minnesota Twins.

Billy;s favorite player protagonist was Reggie Jackson, the Hall of Famer who played on many post-season teams during his career. One of the myriad quotes Reggie came up with was “If I played in New York they’d name a candy bar after me“. 

Well after some twists and turns that we’ll get to later on, Reggie hit 3 homers in the final game of the 1977 World Series, and by the next opening day the Reggie candy bar was created. Having had some of those back in the day (no, it did not unwrap itself and tell you how great it was), I can assure you that it was perfectly edible, but a not great chocolate bar. In my opinion, the Pro Set Puck Chocolate was actually better, but that’s a different argument for a different day.

And now for some of the bumps along the way that Reggie faced on his way to hitting those 3 famous World Series homers. First was this infamous quote in a Sport Magazine article released a couple of months into the season. This was in a pre-social-media world where newspapers and magazines mattered just as much as the modern day facebook and twitter.

You can imagine just how well that statement went over in the Yankees clubhouse, especially since Thurman Munson was coming off an MVP season in 1976, and was a beloved figure with both teammates and fans. Supposedly by the end of the season, Reggie’s only person he could really turn to was Fran Healy. Healy was able to parlay his positive presence for all concerned to a 40-year post-playing career working in the New York area as a baseball personage. 


And of course, there was some playing drama on the field in both 1977-78. There was this famous incident where Billy Martin wanted to fight Reggie in the dugout because Reggie did not apparently hustle after this ball in the outfield.

But at the end of the season all was forgiven after 1977 World Series game 6.

If you have ever seen the footage of the game, note the top of the 9th inning. The fans are actually sitting on the fence waiting to jump on the field and celebrate/riot after the final out. Thankfully, no baseball came close to the fence, so what could have been a real disaster never occurred.

The next season Billy and Reggie had round 2. Billy got so worked up over everything that he uttered this famous line one night:  “One’s a born liar and the other one is convicted.”

Yes, seemingly we can use that line about politicians then and still today, but calling your owner “convicted” is a pretty good way not to be working in the near future. So Billy got let go, but the fan reason was so anti-Steinbrenner that a few days later at old-timers day this event occurred: 

The ovation lasted a long time and is still remembered as of the seminal moments of that era. Here are clips of some of the other famous late 1970’s moments:

No, Chris Chambliss never touched home plate, but under those circumstances who was going to take away the homer!

And I love to tease my Red Sox friends about this one:

Bill White’s understated call is still great to hear.  “Deep to Left”.   

This card featured Dent being greeted at home plate after the homer.


Sadly the next year, the Yankees lost Thurman Munson in a tragic plane crash in 1979. Jerry Narron told us at a SABR meeting that having to catch in that game was the hardest and most emotional game he ever participated in his life.

A year earlier Munson had hit this massive homer in the American League Championship Series. He was broken down, and every bone in his body was hurting, but he had that one great moment left:

A few games later the final out of the World Series was this play:

Looking back over 40 years, we can’t even imagine all the sub-plots which the Yankees were involved with.  This became the theme for the Bronx in 1977. On top of everything else, New York City was having major issues in the 1970’s:

The Bronx was indeed burning, and the Son of Sam was shooting innocent people:


And in 1976 the Daily News had this unforgettable headline:

Image result for Ford to NY Drop Dead

 And we had songs written about those pre-1970 older days in NY City:


When I first heard this Simon and Garfunkel song I understood the importance to both singers, because of the break-up they had a few years earlier.  Listen to the wonderful lyrics of Paul Simon and this song, which was recorded at the famed Muscle Shoals studio.

This was the only top 40 single for Cashman and West, who were better known as Jim Croce’s producers in those days. In case you didn’t know, Cashman is the same Terry Cashman who recorded Talking Baseball just in time for the 1981 season. 

And with that, we’ll always remember baseball is part of our life today, it was part of our life in the 1970’s and 80’s, and it was part of our life even before any of us were born.

Rich Reminisces: 1968 Detroit Tigers

Why do teams become legendary in our sports collecting hobby? Sometimes the reason is the cast of characters are a unique bunch mixed around. Think of the great New York Yankees teams of the late 1970’s. They had enough oversized personalities on and off the field that the moniker “The Bronx Zoo” worked for that team. For others, it was because they were a right place, right time team. Example of this was the 1969 New York “Miracle” Mets who went on a run the last 2 months of the 1969 season and post-season and won their first World Series. For others. the amount of time a team was dominant mattered. A good example is the 1970’s Pittsburgh Steelers, who won four Super Bowls within a six season period.

And sometimes, there is a little bit of all of the above including fortuitous timing and how they brought a community together. A great example of this scenario is the 1968 Detroit Tigers ,who truly were the last of their era. Five decades later we can say that because they did not have to go through a post-season gauntlet to win a World Series, nor did have to play any night games in the post-season. 

And how did they get to the 1968 World Series? First, their ace pitcher was a youngster named Denny McLain. McLain won an astounding 31 games that season. No one has won more than 27 games in a season since. In fact, very few starters even get to 31 starts anymore, so you’d basically have to win most every start to even be in a position to win 30 games. While we knew 30 games was quite the accomplishment for a pitcher, we all thought in 1968 there might be another one to reach the milestone. Many teams still used four man rotations, and that gave pitchers 40 starts in a season, which meant 30 wins was not the impossible target that it is today.

What made McLain even more interesting was his career as playing the organ and flying an airplane. Did all those outside interests shorten his career? One could argue between the known gambling issues and the just as well known outside interests, the odds were he would have had a longer career if he had focused more on his pitching career. We do know a few things today.

1) His career was over before he reached 30.
2) He is a great guest at a card show.

Their second best pitcher was Mickey Lolich, who would go on to win 3 games in the World Series that year. In 1968, the concept of a pitcher winning 3 World Series games was not considered unusual, as three pitchers had reached that total over the previous 22 seasons. After Lolich, no pitcher has won 3 games in a World Series since. On the other hand, George Frazier actually managed to lose 3 games in the 1981 World Series. Maybe some reliever will win 3 games in a future World Series.  Lolich owned a donut store and rode a motorcycle, but he was always serious about his pitching. To show what a fluke 1968 was, Lolich also blasted his first career homer during that World Series.

It was not just the pitchers who were interesting . Bill Freehan, who was the best American League Catcher from about 1964 through 1971, could have won an MVP award if things had broken a bit differently. Freehan did everything well for the Tigers, and as such garnered much MVP support in 1967 and 1968. He was a force both offensively and defensively. Today, he is battling a long-term illness, but we all remember him fondly for his time on the diamond.

The starting first baseman was Stormin’ Norman Cash. Cash, is a player who helped define the term career year. Look at his 1961 season (.361 batting average and 40+ homers) and compare that year to the rest of his career.  Cash also had a great sense of humor, and in Nolan Ryan‘s first no-hitter brought up a piano leg as his bat as he figured he could not hit Ryan with a standard bat. 

At second base was Dick McAuliffe, who set a record which can be tied, but never broken. After a 1967 season in which he only grounded into 2 double plays, he improved that in 1968 by never grounding into a double play. This record can surely be tied, but never broken indeed.  Also, he had a nasty on-field brawl with Tommy John that injured John’s shoulder and prematurely ended his season. Could that fight have been part of the reason John later needed the surgery now named for him?

The shortstop with the most playing time for the Tigers was Ray Oyler, who batted all of .135 that season. Yes you read correctly, .135 was his batting average.  To me, Ray Oyler is best known for a classic line within the book Ball 4, which I blogged about last month. That line was not family friendly, but if you want to look it up for yourself, search out “bridges completed in 1929”.  Meanwhile, here is Ray posed with a bat in the bunting position. And when he came to the plate,  posing to bunt might have been his best way to get on base.

When you hit just .135, which was absurd for any player, including most pitchers, you probably are not going to play much in the post-season. And that’s what occurred to Oyler, as Mickey Stanley transitioned from the outfield to play shortstop during the World Series. Purportedly, the move was to get Al Kaline‘s bat into the lineup, and who can argue with subbing a future Hall of Famer for a guy hitting all of .135? Yep, all of .135. I don’t know how many times I can repeat that number, but it only gets more awesome each time it’s mentioned. Stanley played error-less ball in the World Series, and having Kaline in the lineup gave extra length as well.  Jim Northrup and Willie Horton were also the other starting outfielders and for 1968, boy that was quite an explosive team at the plate.

Note the position on the 1969 Mickey Stanley card. :

Of course there was plenty of controversy during the series, but one of the oddest ones had to do with the National Anthem. Jose Feliciano was just beginning his career, and did not perform a traditional Star Spangled Banner. I did not understand back then why it was so criticized, and I don’t today but let’s listen and see what you think.

And this is a version done in 2010 to honor the original version by Jose.

We leave you with one final image of the 1968 Tigers, which is of their 3rd base coach Joe Schultz. It was known during the series that Joe would take over managerial duties for the 1969 Seattle Pilots, but who knew just how legendary Joe would become within two years of the series?


Rich Reminisces: Willie Mays

Willie Mays was the definition of a five-tool baseball player. Whatever he did on a baseball diamond he did well, and he did well until he was 40 years old. He outlasted all his contemporaries and made what might be the most famous catch in all baseball history. While those won’t be one of the cards we discuss today, that catch was honored on this 1959 Topps baseball card:

We’ll begin with his 1951 Bowman card. Just as with Mickey Mantle, who also was a 1951 rookie player and rookie card, this card is in the last and more difficult Bowman series. What most people do not realize in today’s world was when Dr. James Beckett published his first price guide book in 1979 there was only a $5 difference between the Mays and the Mantle card.

Yes, you would have done terrific with either card if you had put them away in 1979 and not have them seen the light of day for the following 40 years, but in those days Mantle was considered just a hair better than Mays in terms of pricing.

The next year we had his first Topps basball card. His first Topps card is in the second toughest series of the legendary 1952 Topps set and has never been an easy card for collectors to find. While not as difficult as the renowned last series, these are all pretty tough cards and the Mays is never readily available at shows or through the big auction houses

As you can see this also happens to be a very attractive card design and the attractiveness of the card works well with the expensive price tag. Another of my favorite Mays cards from his playing day is this 1962 Topps Superstars card with Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays.If you look carefully you will see Hank Aaron and Ernie Banks with their back to the camera. Pretty impressive with either group of players I would say. And if you had those two players on your team during the 1954-1965 time period you probably would have been able to, well in the words of famed sportswriter Red Smith, “serving strawberries in the wintertime just about every season.” You would not have needed a lot more help to make a great team.

If you were collecting cards in the 1960’s, you learned Topps used certain numbers to honor the superstars. Usually if a player had a card number ending with 00 or 50 they were not only beloved, but also considered the key cards in the set. That tradition continued for a long time, even famously in the 1985 Topps set when Oddibe McDowell was set up to be card #400, when Topps featured the 1984 Olympic gold-medal team and then Mark McGwire was #401. More than three decades later you wonder if Topps would like that numbering sequence back. 

Another one they would like back came in 1969 Topps when Mays was shockingly given card #190 after a long streak of being a key number.  There were a lot of things going on with Topps in 1969 in terms of their relationship with the MLB Players Union, and I wonder if they even thought they would be able to get all seven series they released out the door. The first two series were heavily front-loaded with stars and superstars, and we can look at that with modern conjecture. If you are really interested I would recommend reading Mark Armour‘s work on that card era, for he has done a yeoman job on the research and appreciates the time from both the kid he was at the time and the excellent researcher he is today.

But without further adieu here is card #190 in 1969:

Finally we end our tour with the last regular season card issued of Mays. Willie returned to New York during the 1972 season when the Giants were looking for a soft landing for his career’s end, and his presence helped the New York Mets get to the World Series the following year. Now he was pretty much through as a player in 1973, but in 1972 he still had one last dramatic flair to his career.

This clip of Mays’ first homer as a Met came against the Giants no less and turned out to be the game-winning hit.

That was on Mother’s day in 1972, and it seemed like Mother’s day was big in New York for baseball highlights. We had this one five years earlier; In fact, it was five years earlier to the day

But we digress, and here is Mays 1973 Topps card as a Met.

Now, I always wished Topps did more career retrospective cards but we were lucky in 1974 to have this “accidental” Mays card as part of the 1973 World Series highlights:

What do you want us to write about in future columns on the COMC Blog? We want to hear from members of the COM Nation! We want this to be as much YOUR column as it is mine.

Rich Reminisces: “Ball Four” by Jim Bouton

2019 is the 50th anniversary of what may be the most important book ever written about baseball. The tome which changed the world was “Ball Four” written by Jim Bouton and edited by Len Shecter.

Jim Bouton, who should have had Topps cards in 1969 and 1970 so we could have even better memories of that era, was as the author the key person of the book. After all, Bouton did pitch in 73 games during the 1969 season, which included two major league teams and a short minor-league stint.

Before going to the Seattle Pilots, Bouton had been a New York Yankee and was a remnant from the final days of the Yankees dynasty. While it was obvious from all his writings that he truly loved the game, the fact he looked at things differently was a cause of consternation for baseball officials. One of the things to remember is if all he had written about was how baseball players were human (young, loved to chase girls on the road, used coarse language, etc.) that would not have been so bad. Or as the story at the time goes: “If you see a word you don’t know, don’t ask your mother about those” to deal with the four letter words. This book took the inside stories which were evolving, beginning with Jerry Kramer’s book “Instant Replay” about the 1967 Green Bay Packers and Frank Beard’s book “Pro” about the golf tour.  

Bouton took these books a step further and was not nearly as family friendly as some of the other books in that process. Bill Freehan’s “Behind the Mask”, which actually pre-dated Ball Four’s release was also an inside look at a team, but without most of the non-baseball material covered in Ball Four. Of course there was a difference in Freehan playing almost every day as a position player and Bouton spending a lot of time in the bullpen, having more time to hear all those stories. Both Freehan and Bouton’s books are based on the 1969 season, so when the Seattle Pilots played the Detroit Tigers there are two different ways those games are dealt with.

The most amazing thing about these books was perhaps the self-examination needed for these diaries, as all of these athletes had seasons at or near their career peak during around that time. And in the case of Jerry Kramer, there is this memorable block of Jethro Pugh to give Bart Starr the room needed to score the winning touchdown in the 1967 Ice Bowl game  

But what really upset major league baseball was two fold:

1.) How he was able to show that the legendary Mickey Mantle was not perfect but just another person with typical male urges.
2.) He also showed how players were not properly paid, and some of the monetary troubles players had were because management had so much control.

Those issues as much as anything was what organized baseball got freaked out about after the book was published in 1970. Remember similar to today, there was a growing divide between the young athletes and those establishment types that were in charge. Today, much gets into the public because of social media use, which never used to be part of the discussion.

The other thing to remember was because of this book we were able to get a first person look at the 1969 Seattle Pilots, which were a one and done team. Since they were only in existence for that one year, the idea that we have this much information about the team is a gold mine.

Although the Pilots were an expansion team, they had several people important in baseball history. One of those players, who got traded before Spring Training even concluded was Lou Piniella. “Sweet Lou” may have had a sweet bat, but he was not always the mellowest player on the field. Piniella had what is called a “Red ***”, and more than 20 years later his temper was still well remembered.  He is the last Cincinnati Reds manager to take the team to the World Series and the only Seattle Mariners manager to lead them to the post-season.  And here is a brief part of a Sassoon ad which showed on television.

And there are plenty of other people who are remembered fondly because of their places in the day to day life of the Seattle Pilots. After all, Joe Schultz, a long-time baseball man, was the manager of the team and understood they were not going to be winning many games. Thus, one of his great pieces of advice was to “Pound the Old Bud (Weiser)” after every game.

We also have people who were almost “counter-culture heroes” at the time such as Steve Hovley and Mike Marshall:

And there is also Gary “Ding Dong” Bell:

Fred Talbot, is probably still waiting for his part of the 25,000 dollar prize since he, somehow as a pitcher, hit a grand slam in the designated inning of a fan contest. No, the money never came, but the story still lingers. There is no Topps card of him as a Pilot, so instead here’s his 1969 card of him as a Yankee.

And while I could talk about all the players and their roles in the book such as Marty Pattin‘s Donald Duck impression, the final couple of players I’ll talk about in this article is Greg Goossen. Goossen came up as a young man with the Mets and is responsible for one of the most memorable Casey Stengel lines: “This is Greg Goossen, he’s 19 years old and in 10 years he’s got a chance to be 29.

As a boxing fan, I’ve always been fascinated since Goossen is part of the boxing Goossen family, and before his passing actually was one of the corner-men in several important fights. He also became a stand-in for Gene Hackman in films, and did very well financially doing that seemingly thankless role.

And how else could I finish but by showing a card of Dooley Womack aka THAT Dooley Womack, who Bouton was traded for during the middle of the 1969 season. They had been Yankees teammates in 1966-68 before both of them began their last few seasons. This is Dooley pictured as an Houston Astro.

On a personal thought, I wonder if you could argue the eventual acceptance of Ball Four was one of the precursors to the work Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein did to uncover the Watergate Scandal. By that time we had started getting used to the concept that people who had previously been protected by media members were not being treated as normal human beings. Scandals were far fewer before 1970 and Ball Four than afterwards.

  Was this book and the honest appraisal of baseball players a tipping point in journalistic history?

Rich Reminisces: The 1973 Mets

By Rich Klein
Recently I heard the sad news of George Thomas Seaver (we know him better as Tom) beginning his long goodbye as his great mind is slowly becoming less active and he is suffering from Alzheimer’s. This news comes just as the New York Mets begin to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their “Miracle Mets” season. Let me assure you, if you were in the NY Area in 1969, that was truly a miracle season. So many things occurred that year which were a confluence of events never to be repeated or duplicated.  When this 1969 Topps card was released the Mets were just starting to roll a bit towards their successful conclusion.  Thankfully for collectors without deep pocketbooks there is no “White” last name version of this card. If there were, the 1969 Master Set collection cost would have grown by a decent chunk of change.

Because baseball was so important in ’69 and the Mets were such a great story,  with them located in New York and having had such a short history at the time, there were countless books written about the team during the next few months. I believe I read every single one of them. Yes, there was actually a time where reading print in all forms was how we garnered information, and in my cas,e put the information into my muscle memory, which when my turn comes to forget everything but the past, will be remembered much easier than what I had for lunch yesterday! (Grilled chicken sandwich with sautéed mushrooms, grilled jalapenos and grilled onions and a side salad).

But the real point is that those books were able to talk both about the days when the Mets were lovable loser. In fact, the Mets had books written about their beginning when the great newspaper columnist Jimmy Breslin penned a tome about the 1962 team. Since New York was a major media capital back then, and the team was so bad they were good (yes Marv E. Throneberry we’re thinking of you), a detailed tome about their debut season was a first as far as I know.

Image result for jimmy breslin can't

So 7 years later was the year we first walked on the moon, and since all things seemed possible, why not have a baseball team do something we thought was impossible?  We have tons of material about the 1969 Mets, but what we don’t have very much about is a Mets team which four short years later almost completed an even greater miracle.

The 1973 Mets had many of the same key players of the 1969 team, but the team was carried by their pitching staff led by Tom Seaver. They also featured Jerry Koosman and Tug McGraw as their key pitchers, and some of the same position players including Ed Kranepool, Cleon Jones, Ken Boswell, Wayne Garrett, Bud Harrelson, and Jerry Grote.

If you look carefully enough you can see Yogi Berra 5th from the left on the second row and Tom Seaver two people to his left and Cleon Jones directly to Seaver’s left.  We’ll let other sleuths identify the rest of the team, but remember this is a photo of the 1972 team. And based on not seeing Willie Howard Mays, I’d say this was produced in 1972 spring training.

The reason this team was such as miracle was because as late as August 30th, 1973 the Mets were mired in last place, but the NL East race was so bunched up that every team could have a hot streak and become competitive. Although the Mets were in last place in the six-team National League East Division, they were only  6 1/2 games out of 1st place.Now remember, in 1973 there were no wild card spots, so you won the division or you went home.

The team that went on the run was the Mets. The story goes that General Manager M. Donald Grant went to give the team a pep talk and Tug McGraw was reacting sarcastically and stated, “You gotta believe!” Well, those three words became the mantra for the team in September, and they went on to win their division with an 82-79 record.

The “Tugger” would run with the publicity he garnered from this run and became quite the media darling. He helped to co-author a daily comic strip which you can still find a compilation of in book form:

Image result for tug mcgraw comic

September was when the school year begin in New York, but all kids big and small were too entranced by the events going on. There was a play against the Pirates in which the baseball had about a one percent chance of ricocheting off the wall in a way which would it would go back to the fielder. The miracle bounce occurred and lives on forever thanks to youtube.

A few days after that, Willie Mays, who had returned to New York the previous season to finish out his career, finally announced he would be retiring from baseball. As he said he knew it was time for Willie to say goodbye to America. The Mays Tribute Night part of this video begins at approximately the 12:45 mark.  Today, the Mets would have figured out a way to do that on a sunny Sunday afternoon with tons of publicity. Believe it or not, there was not much advance notice for the Mays ceremony.

Finally, on a rainy day in Chicago, the Mets clinched the division and the weather was so bad that the second game was never played. The game might have been played if it mattered to the pennant race, but since it did not, why risk injury to any of the players? Here is restrained way the Mets clinched the National League East.

The Mets would then go to the playoffs and defeat the Cincinnati Reds, who were just beginning to evolve into the Big Red Machine. The highlight was a brawl instigated by a fight between Bud Harrelson and Pete Rose. Many fans then already did not like Pete Rose because of the 1970 All-Star game collision with Ray Fosse, so this just added to the hatred of Rose in New York.

That is a video of their kerfuffle. Big Bad Pete Rose versus Bud Harrelson. who by that point in a season might not have even weighed 150 pounds.

The Mets would then go deep into the World Series against the Oakland Athletics and force the series into a 7th game to be on the precipice of winning a second World Series. However, the A’s, led by their pitching staff, proved why they would be able to win three straight World Series in the 1970’s. Thanks to Topps practice at the time of showing pictures from each World Series game we did get one last 1974 Willie Mays card out of our packs. Now I realize Topps did certain things in those days to appease the target audience of kids, but the lack of a 1974 Mays card ranks right up there with other players who never received a final tribute card.

Off the top of my head such cards as a 1964 Stan Musial, 1967 Sandy Koufax and 1977 Hank Aaron would have been great for the kids then and the adults today. I’m convinced one reason the 1969 Mickey Mantle is so beloved is because he did not formally retire until March 1969 and Topps had already planned his card. Thus he got the last cards those other greats missed.

And as for Tom Seaver, as he heads into the long goodbye. he would pitch for more than another decade and amass more than 300 career victories, as well as gaining a first ballot selection by the BBWAA to elect him into the Hall of Fame on the 1st ballot.

This is just a cool modern card of “Tom Terrific” so we can all remember him as he was.

Rich Reminisces: The Front Row Awaits

By Rich Klein
I’m sitting here in my Dallas-Fort Worth office listening to a great tribute for Ed Baer. Don’t know who the “Big Bad Baer” was, well he was a New York area radio personality for nearly six decades.If you are like me and are someone who likes listening to old air checks of these voices you grew up with,  they are part of your memory. One great advantage we have in the card collecting world is that we have tangible items we can look at to keep our memories alive.  Here is a photo of Mr. Baer late in his life:
Image result for ed baer
Sometimes one can just go card by card for a player’s career and each card tells a story. Sometimes the mediocre major league baseball players becomes  legends for other reasons. Such is the case with Bob Uecker, who has been a very good defensive catcher, comedian, television star and baseball announcer for six decades now. Just think about this, Uecker has been in the front row of our existence since his first card in 1962. His very first card is from the very difficult 1962 Topps Rookie Parade high number subset. Because of the difficulty of this card and the price thereof, many collectors need this card as one of their final cards needed for that set.

Note the floating head concept, and yes, these would be among the first cards to use the concept. Several of these players have interesting stories as Doc Edwards would become a manager, and Doug Camilli was the son of Dolph Camilli, who was the 1941 National League Most Valuable Player while a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Camilli’s uncle was a fighter named Frankie Campbell, who lost his life after a battle with future heavyweight champion Max Baer Yes Ed and Max are tangentially related.

Uecker’s 1963 Topps card is the easiest of his cards. The card is a second series card, so if you want an early Uecker card then this is the one for you. In fact, 25 years later the card was reprinted by Blue Cross and is by far the most difficult of any cards using his1963 photo. The only real way you can tell the difference is on the back. It’s oretty easy to tell the difference between the regular 1963 and the 1988 just by looking at the back.

Next up is his 1964 Topps card. The 1964 card is a high number card which is one of the most underrated of the 1960’s high number series. Many collectors know about the difficulties of the high numbers, but 1964 sort of flies under the radar.
The 1964 St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series and while Bob was not a starter, for them his attitude probably helped to keep the clubhouse loose. Interestingly, the starting catcher for those Cardinals was Tim McCarver, who also had a baseball career spanning nearly six decades since his 1959 major league debut.
The 1965 Topps Uecker featured a reversed negative. Was Uecker playing a trick on the photographer, or did Topps get the photo wrong as they did on the 1957 Hank Aaron card? Frankly, with Uecker’s background, playing a trick on a photographer could certainly have been possible. At least those tricks were more harmless than the Billy Ripken bat prank noted on his 1989 Fleer card that we’re choosing not to link to in this particular blog for obvious reasons.
This is also a late series 1965 card which makes this more difficult than the first two series of that year.
In 1966, we get an easier Bob Uecker Topps card but this time, there was a variation twist. The harder variety of this card does not have a trade notation on the back.

We now come to Bob’s final Topps card. Yes I wish there had been a 1968 Braves card featuring him as Phil Niekro won the National League ERA title in no small part to Bob’s use as his designated catcher. It would have been a nice conclusion to his card career, but instead this Phillies card was the final one of his career.

I personally love the 1967 Topps set and think this is the nicest of the Bob Uecker cards as it shows him in full catching gear getting ready to go behind the plate.

It’s hard to imagine, but his six year card career had more interesting twists and turns than most players. His future career (s) would continue to keep him in the public eye even as he approaches his 85th birthday. We hope that he’s in the front row for a long time indeed.

Rich Reminisces: Thurman Munson

By Rich Klein
When I was growing up my two favorite teams were the Houston Astros in the National League, and the New York Yankees in the American League. Let’s face it, you can’t really root for both New York teams unless you like the flip-flop between your allegiances. In my generation, my three favorite players growing up were Jim Wynn and Cesar Cedeno of the Astros, and Thurman Munson of the Yankees. All three of the players had some interesting life stories, but sadly one of them would not even live until the 1980’s. When Thurman Munson’s plane crashed on August 2, 1979 that truly was one of the saddest days of my young life. When you really know a player more for what they do on the field than with any off-field characteristics, it’s easier to admire what they were.
Munson was drafted as the fourth overall amateur draft pick in 1968, and while the scouting in the 1960’s was not as sophisticated as 50 years later, Munson was a wise selection as he was in the majors barely a year later. In fact, he was such as good prospect that Topps placed him on one of those two-player Rookie Stars cards early in 1970 set:
Sy Berger always claimed that Topps had a better idea than most people about whom teams would keep in the majors, and in this case they batted .500 as Munsion had his fine career, but Dave McDonald would never play with the Yankees again and make a cameo with the 1971 Montreal Expos to conclude his major league career.
It’s really not a bad card, but his second year card, now that’s an even better card! His 1971 card, because of the black borders, is even harder to get in great condition than the 1970 rookie stars card. The 1971 card is even more significant because technically this is the first action photo ever on a base Topps card. Yes, we can consider card #5 the first action card in any Topps set EVER.
Because Topps was based out of New York, many of their photographers were also based out of the Metropolitan area.  You can see the backgrounds of either Yankee or Shea Stadium on many of the photos, and in 1971 you can see lots of action photos featuring players from those two team. Here is an example of Munson on the background of a couple of cards:
Vada Pinson was a great player in the 1960’s and was still a very good player in the early 1970’s, which is why he also earned an action photo in the set. Notice the player prone wearing #15. Yep, that’s Thurman!
A couple of years later Terry Crowley‘s card has Munson featured as well:
Munson is featured just as actively as Crowley is on his own card.  There are other cool background players on 1970’s action cards. Especially in basketball where you will see Hall of Famers from other teams on many cards. But for our purposes, we’ll just stick to Munson. Recognize the player Johnny Bench is going to tag out in this 1977 World Series card?  Yep, Thurm is making another guest appearance:
Munson’s career continued to thrive and in 1976 he won the American League Most Valuable Player award. His 1976 cards have always been among my favorite cards. But if you notice both the Topps and SSPC card feature Munson with a full beard. One team rule New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner had was no beards, and these cards help to show Munson’s independent streak over the facial hair issue:

I always wonder if the photo on his 1976 Hostess card was taken as part of the same photo shoot as the Topps card:
As I mentioned in an earlier column, within a few short years Munson would perish in a plane crash, and the last card issued whilst he was living was the 1979 Burger King Yankees set. I believe it is possible to have a signed card, but I have never seen a signed 1979 Burger King card in the past 40 years. Munson was not the easiest person in giving out autographs to fans, yet in a fascinating conundrum, most Yankee team signed balls have legit Munson signatures and not what are called “Clubhouse” signatures.
And if you really want to really know why Thurman was so beloved: Munson had not hit a homer in months. His power was sapped from the 1975-77 era.  He was hurting all over. But in this 1978 playoff game, with his body aching from those hard catching years, and in the pressure packed 1978 American League Championship Series, he hit what was probably the longest homer of his career.

And the night after his plane crash, the Yankees still had a game the next day, and if you want to cry go right ahead: I once asked Jerry Narron, who started as catcher that day, about what it was like trying to catch that game, and he stated that it was the hardest game he ever had to play in.

Would Thurman had made the Hall of Fame? My instinct says his career would have wound down before getting the career stats, but in our memories he was the straw that stirred the drink for the 1970’s Yankees.