Thursday, April 30, 2009

#25 Lee Mazzilli

Who was this player?
Lee Mazzilli, centerfielder (soon to be first baseman), New York Mets.
In the long tradition of great New York centerfielders, in 1979-80 Lee Mazzilli of the New York Mets was heralded as the next Big Apple superstar. The Brooklyn-born "Maz" drove in the tying and winning runs in the 1979 All Star game and was the Mets best player. He was being moved to first base for the 1980 primarily because the Mets were a weak team and because of Mazzilli's weak throwing arm.

While in the minor leagues, Mazzilli set a California League record when he stole seven bases for Visalia on June 8, 1975. He became the Mets regular center fielder in 1977 and began to improve his numbers every season. In 1980, he had his best statistical season, leading the Mets with 162 hits, 31 doubles, 16 home runs, 76 RBI, 82 runs, and 41 stolen bases.

After being hampered by injuries in 1981, Mazzilli was traded to the Texas Rangers for pitchers Ron Darling and Walt Terrell. He played only 58 games with Texas and was traded to the Yankees for Bucky Dent midway through the 1982 season. Prior to the 1983 season, he was traded to the Pirates, where I spent three and a half seasons as a part time player. After he was released by the Pirates in July, 1986, I re-signed with the Mets, and was an important part of their 1986 World Championship team. His career with the Mets continued until 1989 when he was claimed by the Blue Jays on waivers. He retired after the 1989 season, his 14th in the Major Leagues.

After his career, he was the first base coach with the New York Yankees and was manager of the Baltimore Orioles in 2004 and 2005. Recently, he is the studio analyst for SportsNet New York.

Why I love this card
A nice game action shot where a clear shot of Mazzilli is shown, even though he looks a little like John Lennon. Love the wristbands that Maz is sporting here too. The Mets best pitcher and player in 1980 are both featured in the first 25 cards of the set.

Something else....
After his career, Mazzilli took up acting for a spell, starring in Tony & Tina's Wedding. Apparently, Dan Lauria (the dad from the Wonder Years) is a friend and talked Mazzilli into this. Now we know who to thank.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

#24 Jim Slaton

Who was this player?
Jim Slaton, starting pitcher, Milwaukee Brewers
Slaton was the #2 pitcher in the Brewers starting rotation; a team many predicted would contend in the AL East . At the time of this card's release, he was already the Brewers franchise leader in nearly every pitching category.

Originally a 1969 draft choice of the Seattle Pilots, Slaton rose quickly to the majors landing a spot in the starting rotation to begin the 1971 season. One of the youngest players in the majors, he posted impressive numbers in his rookie season, going 10-8 with a 3.78 ERA in 23 starts. Slaton faltered early in the 1972 season and was demoted to the minors after a 1-6 start.

Returning to the Brewers for good in 1973, Slaton established himself a mainstay in the Brewers rotation, winning at least 10 games and pitching at least 200 innings every year for the next five seasons. He even represented the Brewers in the 1977 All-Star Game. Looking to improve their offense, the Brewers traded Slaton to Detroit for outfielder Ben Ogilvie. It was in Detroit that Slaton would win a career high 17 games. As a free agent, Milwaukee offered him a large contract to return, so he was back in a Brewers uniform for the 1978 season.

After going 15-9 in 1979, injuries cut his 1980 season short. He returned to the Brewers staff in 1981 and helped lead the Brewers to the "second half" AL East title. The pinnacle came the next season; a Brewer appearance in the 1982 World Series. Slaton earned the win in Game 4. It was also during this time Slaton began a transition to the bullpen, primarily as a setup and long relief ace. After the 1983 season, he was traded to the California Angels. He would retire following the 1986 season after 16 seasons in the major leagues.

Slaton has stayed in the game through coaching at numerous stops in the minor leagues. As of 2009, he was the pitching coach for the Albuquerque Isotopes.

Why I love this card
While I am not a big fan of the staged shots such as this one, Slaton does get a nice plug in for his glove, the Wilson A2000. You have to look close and it's upside down, but its there. How's that for digging?

Something else....
Slaton still tops the Brewers' all-time list in victories (117), innings pitched (2025.3), games started (268), and shutouts (19).

#23 Derrel Thomas

Who was this player?
Derrel Thomas, utility, Los Angeles Dodgers.
Thomas was an extremely versatile ballplayer appearing at six different positions for the Dodgers in 1979. In his career, Thomas would appear at every position but pitcher. His ability to play anywhere when asked enhanced his playing time and he was expected to fill a similar role with the Dodgers during the 1980 season.

Initially drafted #1 overall by the Houston Astros in the 1969 draft, Thomas was traded to the San Diego Padres before the 1972 season. Thomas immediately demonstrated his versatility by playing in five positions that first season, mainly at second base and shortstop. His ability to spell the regulars made him a conistent part of the Padre lineup for three seasons. He was traded to the San Francisco Giants in 1975.

During that season, Thomas enjoyed his first season as a starter as the Giants second baseman, posting career highs in sevearal categories. Eventually, however, he returned to his utility status with the Giants and the Padres (again) and Dodgers. In 1981, Thomas was part of the Dodger team that won the World Series. It was in Los Angeles that Thomas enjoyed his longest stay with any one team, five seasons. Thomas last appeared in a major league game in 1985, after 15 seasons with seven teams.

In 1992, Thomas was arrested in Los Angeles for attempting to sell undercover officers 22 pounds of cocaine for $140,000. At the time of his arrest, Thomas was the head baseball coach at Dorsey High School in Los Angeles. He eventually spent 47 days in jail.Thomas has used this life experience to help aid young people by joining Baseballers Against Drugs. He was awarded their Positive Image award in 2004.

Why I love this card
While I am typically not a fan of the simple head shots, this one has a unique look to it. I can't tell if the photographer surprised Thomas as I can't believe that this was a staged shot. Either that or Thomas just woke up. Always glad to see another appearance of the vintage batting helmets as well. A little foreshadowing here as that Thomas was also named in the Pittsburgh drug trials.

Something else....
Thomas appeared in the 1991 movie Talent for the Game. starring Edward James Olmos. He appeared as a California Angel, a team that he played with in 1984.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

#22 Pat Putnam

Who was this player?
Pat Putnam, first baseman, Texas Rangers
Coming off his first season as a starter, Putnam led the Rangers in home runs and slugging percentage and he was named AL Rookie Player of the Year by the Sporting News. In 1980, he was slated to be the Rangers everyday first baseman and one of the leading run producers on the team. Orioles manager and Hall of Famer Earl Weaver predicted that Putnam would be a future MVP.

After playing college ball at South Alabama for Eddie Stanky,, Putnam was a #1 draft choice of the Texas Rangers. He was a triple crown winner in the Western Carolina League and big league greatness was predicted for him at every minor league stop. However, he did have difficulty breaking into the Rangers lineup initially, due to the Rangers having several players who could play first base and DH.

He broke through to stay in 1979 and had another solid season for the Rangers in 1980. New Rangers manager Don Zimmer was a supporter of Putnam and believed in his potential, but he never became the RBI man that his manager envisioned. He lost his starting job in 1982 and was traded to the Seattle Mariners.

While in Seattle, he was given the opportunity to play every day and he took full advantage. He led the 1983 Mariners in home runs and RBIs and was named by his teammates as Mariner MVP. Despite a career year, he lost his job again in Seattle the following season, this time to eventual Rookie of the Year Alvin Davis. With the emergence of Ken Phelps as DH, Putnam was sold to the Minnesota Twins where he appeared in a handful of games before tearing ligaments in his fingers. His major league career ended 1984 after an 8 seasons.

Putnam spent a couple years in Japan and two more with the Senior Professional League before giving up professional baseball for good. Putnam resides in Fort Myers, his hometown of the last 35 years, where he owns a business called Home Environment Center, which specializes in air and water purification.

Why I love this card
Is it just me, or does Putnam look like Boog Powell? And a purple flag for the Rangers? With the solid red, white and aquablue of the Rangers road unis, purple just seems natural. But that's not what I love most about this card. Anytime you can get a shot of a big leaguer with a huge wad of chew in this cheek...hand me my stuff!

Something else...
In the June 7, 1980, The Sporting News stated that "Putnam belongs on any all-whacko list for his proclivities of eating dog biscuits, imitating Shamu the Whale in the whirlpool and assorted other eccentricities."

#21 Manny Sarmiento

Who was this player?
Manny Sarmiento, relief pitcher, Cincinnati Reds.
A native on Venezuela, Sarmiento was part of the bullpen of the defending NL West Champion Reds. A week before the 1980 season began, he was released. At the time, major league players were striking against the owners and not playing spring training games. Sarmiento's teammate, All-Star George Foster, alleged in the media that the release of role players like Sarmiento was an example of ownership's strong-armed bargaining tactics.

Sarmiento made an immediate impact with the 1976 Reds as 20-year old rookie. Called up in mid-season, he appeared in 22 games, winning 5 and posting a 2.06 ERA. He did not appear in the Cincinnati's sweep of the World Series that year, mainly because the Reds were so dominant, but was on their playoff roster.

He was part of the Reds bullpen for the next three seasons as a setup man and middle reliever. After his sudden release, he signed a minor league contract with the Mariners before appearing in nine games late in the season. Manny was traded to the Boston Red Sox before the 1981 season, but he never appeared in a major league game for them. He was signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates prior to the 1982 season, and he logged in two solid seasons again as middle relief and setup man. Known for having a good singing voice, Sarmiento twice sang the National Anthem before a Pirates game.

After a 1983 season that saw him appear in 52 games and post a 2.99 ERA, he curiously never again appeared in a major league game, ending his seven year career. One possible reason arose in 1985 when Sarmiento was implicated in the Pittsburgh drug trials.

Why I love this card
Maybe it is the effect of the late 1970s. Maybe it's just poor selection by Topps. In any event, the team is called the Reds. As in the color. Yet aquablue on the player's name and team pennant and the position pennant is pink. At least the border is red.

Something else....
It is becoming increasingly clear why Topps decided upon a
"Traded" set in 1981. Here is yet another player in the opening stages of this set who was not with the team he is pictured with by the end of the 1980 season.

Monday, April 27, 2009

#20 Dan Ford

Who was this player?
"Disco" Dan Ford, right fielder, California Angels
Dan Ford was an important piece of the Angel team that won the American League West in 1979. He was the number three hitter in the Angels lineup and had 100 runs scored and 100 RBI. Ford hit for the cycle in 1979, only the second Angel ever to do so. Although he had surgery in November 1979, there were high expectations of Ford coming into 1980.

A product of the Watts section of Los Angeles, Ford used athletics to escape the divisive race problems happening in his neighborhood. He was originally drafted by the Oakland A's Charlie Finley in 1970, an owner known for an eye for talent. Unable to crack a loaded A's lineup that won three World Series, he was traded to the Minnesota Twins, where he made an immediate impact.

Playing in 130 games and hitting .280, Ford would have received Rookie of the Year consideration had it not been the same year Fred Lynn and Jim Rice both debuted for the Boston Red Sox. Ford never played in less than 140 games the next three seasons and established himself as a tough out in the Twins lineup. In 1976, Ford hit the first home run in the newly remodeled Yankee Stadium.

Sensing that Ford was due a increase in pay, miserly owner Calvin Griffith traded him to California instead of having Ford leave via free agenct. In Anaheim, Ford would replace the tragically deceased Lyman Bostock, ironically a former teammate.

Ford missed nearly all of spring training due to his knee surgery and got off to a terrible slump in 1980. He was hurt in mid-season and missed nearly two months and drove in only 26 runs. After the strike-shortened 1981 season, he was traded to the Baltimore Orioles for Doug DeCinces. Ford was an important part of the Orioles run to the 1983 World Series, hitting a home run in a Game 3 win off of Hall of Famer Steve Carlton. Ford retired two years later in 1985, ending an 11-year big league career.

Why I love this card
Where to start?
1. This photo was taken at Tiger Stadium in Detroit.
2. The navy blue warmups
3. The old style batting helmet, very similar to the souvenir plastic editions they sold at the ballpark.
4. The fact that the guy Ford was traded for, Ron Jackson is only a card away from him. Coincidence? I think not.

Something else....
How did the name "Disco" originate? From an interview on

The Twins' rookie of the year in '75, Ford quickly became popular on the field and in the Minneapolis social scene. A loyal fan following spawned, as did his nickname, "Disco" Dan Ford.

"I had some friends that owned a disco. We started the disco club out of there," he said. "We officially made it with some T-shirts and a trophy, and we brought it to the stadium. That's what made it really get going, 200-300 people had bought T-shirts and sat out in right field on occasions."

#19 Balor Moore

Who was this player?
Balor Moore, relief pitcher, Toronto Blue Jays
At this time, the Blue Jays were coming off one of the worst seasons in major league history. Moore was a 29-year old lefty that split time starting and relieving in 1979, but he figured to spend most of the 1980 season coming out of the pen.

Moore was the first ever amatuer draft pick of the Montreal Expos in 1969. The pitching-starved expansion team brought Moore to the majors in 1970 at just 19 years old. Clearly not ready at that time, he spent the next season in the minor leagues.

He credits his army service in 1971 to get him back on track. In 1972, Moore posted impressive rookie numbers and established himself as part of the Expos starting rotation. However, the Expos were still an expansion team, and his winning percentange didn't reflect that he was one of the hardest throwers in the game.

Moore began to experience arm trouble in 1974 and spent the next two seasons out of the majors. He caught on with the Angels in 1977 and the following year, another Canadian expansion team, the Toronto Blue Jays. He was part of the Jays starting rotation in 1978. While not the first player, Moore was the first pitcher to appear for both the Canadian teams. He retired during the 1980 season after 8 seasons in the majors.

After his baseball career, Moore left the game and began working at a steel company, which he bought in 1984, and owns today, Brittex Pipe Company.

Why I love this card
Another player in the first 19 cards of the set that didn't finish the season with the team he is pictured with. That's seven now (Braun, Sexton, Curtis, Pruitt, Cash, Narron, Moore). The picture here looks as if Moore is throwing the ball back to the umpire for inspection instead of firing in a pitch. It is also Moore's last card as a major league player.

Something else....
Much like the previous post regarding Ron Jackson, the Blue Jays have also adopted the retro-look lately as well. However, the Blue Jays have been wearing these at home, when looking at Moore's uniform in this card, they are clearly the road models they are emulating.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

#18 Ron Jackson

Who was this player?
Ron Jackson, first baseman, Minnesota Twins
Ron was coming off his first season in Minnesota, where he replaced future Hall of Famer Rod Carew. Appearing in 159 games that season, Jackson entered 1980 with personal highs in nearly every offensive category. His .9943 fielding percentage at first base also broke Carew’s Twins’ record.

Originally drafted by the California Angels, Jackson played six different positions with the Angels, demonstrating his versatility. After hitting .297 in 1978, Jackson spoke out against management regarding his salary and playing time. He found himself traded to the Twins that winter for outfielder Dan Ford.

Jackson would never again attain the offensive levels he did in his first season as Carew's replacement. In 1981, he was traded to the Tigers and hit well in his brief stay. The Tigers wanted to keep Jackson, but he chose not to re-sign with Detroit and instead tested the free agent market. He returned to California, primarily (and ironically) as Carew's backup, and hit .331 in helping the Angels win the AL West. Ron would retire a few years later to wrap up a 10-year career.

After his playing days, Ron's expertise was sought by several major league clubs. His experience under Gene Mauch, Sparky Anderson and Dick Williams served him well in roles as the Brewers minor league hitting coordinator and White Sox hitting instructor. In 2004, now nicknamed "Papa Jack" he was the hitting coach for the World Champion Red Sox and was very active in the local community. Currently he is the batting coach with the Round Rock Express a Houston Astros minor league affiliate.

Why I love this card
I love that the Twins logo patch is predominately displayed on Jackson's shoulder. The Twins have embraced the retro -look and the patch has been part of it. Also, Jackson's signature has changed over the years - and for the better I may add.

Something else....
While with the Angels, Ron also achieved the distinction of becoming one of the only players to wear his entire name on the back of his uniform. The Angels also had Reggie Jackson at the time, and apparently, this was to eliminate the confusion.

Friday, April 24, 2009

#17 Bruce Sutter

Who was this player?
Bruce Sutter, bullpen ace, Chicago Cubs. Hall of Famer, Class of 2006. At the time of this card's printing, Sutter was the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner and was the winning pitcher for the NL in the previous two All-Star Games. He was arguably the most dominant reliever in baseball at the time.

Sutter learned the split-fingered fastball in the minors, the pitch that made him into a dominant closer and Hall of Famer. A six-time All-Star and three-time Rolaids Relief Man of the Year winner, he led the league in saves five times. He was traded to St. Louis in 1981 and he was on the mound when the Cardinals clinch the World Series in 1982.

He left St. Louis in 1985 via free agency and went to the Atlanta Braves. At the time, he signed the largest contract in history. However, a series of injuries conspired to limit his effectiveness and eventually end his career. A brief return to form in 1988 was a final moment in the sun before his retirement in 1988.

In all, Sutter has had three shoulder surgeries, three knee surgeries, an elbow operation, and two back operations.

The sudden end to Sutter's career left his Hall of Fame candidacy in question for several years, until voters finally recognized his accomplishments and voted him in 2006. He was the first pitcher ever inducted that never started a game in his career. That same year, he also had his number retired by the St. Louis Cardinals, the team depicted on his cap in his Hall of Fame plaque.

Why I love this card
In addition to this being the first Hall of Famer featured in a regular-issue card, this card contains virtually no mention of his role as a premier relief pitcher. Saves are not listed on the statistics section on the back and there isn't even a mention of his Cy Young win. Even then, Sutter (and relievers in general) found it hard to get respect. Finally, Sutter is pictured here without his trademark beard.

Something else....
As mentioned on the cartoon on this card, on September 8, 1977, Sutter struck out three Montreal Expos (Ellis Valentine, Gary Carter, and Larry Parrish) on nine pitches in the ninth inning. This marks the 21st time in major league history that a pitcher had struck out the side on nine pitches. Sutter had also struck out the side (though not on nine pitches) upon entering the game in the eighth inning, giving him six consecutive strikeouts, tying the NL record for a reliever. Sutter earned the win when the Cubs won in the 10th inning.

#16 Jerry Narron

Who was this player?
Jerry Narron, reserve catcher, New York Yankees.
Narron made the roster of the defending World Champion Yankees out of spring training in 1979 as backup to Thurman Munson. When Munson died tragically in a plane crash mid-season, Narron saw more playing time. He was traded to the Seattle Mariners shortly after the season ended, where he would spend 1980.

Narron is the first player in the 1980 set that would become a future MLB manager. He served with the Texas Rangers in 2001-02 and the Cincinnati Reds 2005-07. Narron's playing career would last eight seasons, serving mostly as a backup catcher for the Yankees, Mariners and Angels.

Since retiring as a player, Narron has had a lengthy career as minor league manager and major league coach. Prior to his managerial positions with the Rangers and Reds, he served under Johnny Oates as a coach with the Orioles and Rangers. When Oates had to step down after being diagnosed with cancer, Narron replaced him.

Narron managerial tenure in Cincinnati was largely viewed as being the result of a poor pitching staff and he was let go before the end of the 2007 season. He returned to the Rangers on a part-time basis in 2008 as a front office consultant to Nolan Ryan.

Why I love this card
It looks as if Narron is watching a plane fly by in this picture. Perhaps one with a banner that he is trying to read. Regardless, if that is a pop fly he is watching, it doesn't seem as if Narron is planning to raise his glove or toss his mask. Also, finally a color scheme that matches in one of these cards: the color of the players name, the border around the picture, and the flag with the team name are all in sync.

Something else....
Narron's uncle, Sam played in the majors, and his son Connor, is considered one of the best high school players in the country.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

#15 Bill Campbell

Who was this player?
Bill Campbell, relief pitcher, Boston Red Sox
In 1980, Campbell was trying to regain his status as the top fireman (the term at the time) of the Boston Red Sox.

"Soup" was one of the most dominant relievers in baseball in the mid-1970s, first claiming the job as Twins closer in just his second season (1974). Two seasons later, he would establish an American League record for most wins in relief (17) and log an incredible 167+ innings - unthinkable by today's standards for the guy who was seen as the bullpen ace. He was named the Rolaids "Fireman of the Year" for 1976.

For his efforts, Campbell was seeking an $8000 raise, which was refused by Twins owner Calvin Griffith. With free agency changing the landscape of baseball at precisely the same moment, Campbell instead became the first free agent ever to sign with a new team. He became a member of the Boston Red Sox, signing a four-year contract at one million dollars.

Campbell repeated his status as Fireman of the Year in 1977, the same year fellow reliever Sparky Lyle won the Cy Young. He was an All Star that season and saved a career hig 31 games, also tops in the American League.

The 1978 season began poorly for Campbell, and it was later determined that he was suffering from an elbow injury. A subsequent shoulder injury similarly reduced his performance. He never regained his status as a premier closer.

He played 15 seasons in the major leagues for 7 teams (Minnesota, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Detroit and Montreal), ending his career in 1987.

Why I love this card
I know that I professed my love for the powder blue road unis earlier in this blog, but there is something to be said about the simplicity of the Red Sox road uniform. Campbell's uniform and the flag right below it completes the entire name of the team boldly on the front of the card.

Something else....
While Campbell's excessive workload eventually showed managers how not to use their bullpen ace, Campbell did establish himself as a fine relief pitcher after he left Boston. In many ways, he was one of the pitchers resposible for establishing the role of setup man in the 1980s, first for Lee Smith in Chicago and later for Todd Worrell in St. Louis. He led the NL in appearance with the Cubs in 1983 and helped the Cardinals win the National League pennant in 1985.

#14 Dave Cash

Who is this player?
Dave Cash, second baseman, Montreal Expos
Cash was a coming off a 1979 season that saw him lose his starting position. He batted well in a reserve role (.321) yet Cash left Montreal after the season and signed with the San Diego Padres for the 1980 season.

Cash, a career National Leaguer, broke in with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1969 and was the leadoff hitter and second baseman for the 1971 World Champions. Cash established himself as a slashing, solid singles hitter with great speed and excellent defensive skills. However, the Pirates abundance of talent at that position (Rennie Stennent and a minor league Willie Randolph) made him expendable and he was traded to the Phillies prior to the 1974 season for Ken Brett.

Initially unpopular in Philadelphia due to fan reaction from the trade, Cash won over the fans by becoming an All Star and setting records in the process. He led the NL in at-bats all three of his seasons as a Phillie and established a since-broken record of 699 at bats in 1975. He also led the NL in hits (213), his second consecutive season of 200+ safeties.

After helping lead the Phillies to the NL East title in 1976, Cash tested the newly-established free agency waters and signed with Montreal in 1977. While not matching his previous All-Star status, Cash was a solid and dependable second baseman for a up and coming Montreal team. Manager Dick Williams benched Cash in favor of Rodney Scott in 1979, which led to his departure from the team. He played his last season in San Diego in 1980, wrapping up a 12 year career.

Dave stayed active in baseball, most recently in the major leagues as first base coach for the Baltimore Orioles. In 2008, he was the hitting coach for the league champion Sussex Skyhawks in the CAN-AM League.

Why I love this card
Cash is sporting the typical 1980 ballplayer look: stylish warmup jacket, two batting gloves, sweet goatee, the indifferent look away from the camera. And is that a subliminal Marlboro ad in the background? Aren't those illegal??

Something else....
Now that we have passed by the pinch-hitter portion of the set, the last four cards have featured guys that did not finish the 1980 season with the team they are pictured with. And what is up with the "Expos" flag on this card being brown?

#13 Ron Pruitt

Who was this player?
Ron Pruitt, utilityman, Cleveland Indians
Pruitt was never a starter during his nine year career and by 1980 he had transitioned from being a backup catcher to a backup outfielder. He did not finish 1980 in a Indians uniform, however, being traded to the Chicago White Sox. In limited duty in 1980, he was batting .306 before his trade and finished the year with a career-best .302 batting average.

Pruitt was a standout at Michigan State University where he was an All Big Ten and All American catcher. He was drafted by the Texas Rangers in the 1972 amateur draft. In his first appearance behind the plate, he caught future Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry.

He was traded to Cleveland for the 1976 season, and he would spend the bulk of his career in a variety of roles for the Indians. Primarily, he served as a backup catcher and fourth outfielder.

Pruitt was released by the White Sox at the end of spring training in 1981 but rejoined the Indians. He signed a free agent contract with the San Francisco Giants late in the 1982 season, appearing in five games. He played one game for the Giants in 1983 before retiring.

Pruitt played in the Senior Professional Baseball Association in 1989 as a member of the Fort Myers Sun Sox. Today, Pruitt runs his own baseball academy for kids in the Akron, Ohio area, where he has been instructing for over 20 years.

Why I love this card
Nice use of the number 13 in the cartoon on this card - digging up an obscure minor league statistic to compliment the fact that Pruitt is the thirteenth card in the set.

Something else....
On Pruitt's website (another plug) he lists as a baseball highlight:
Playing in Anchorage, Alaska in summer college league and hitting 21 home runs-a record that even Mark McGuire didn't match-and with wood bats!

Monday, April 20, 2009

#12 John Curtis

Who was this player?
John Curtis, pitcher, San Francisco Giants.
Curtis was forced into the Giants starting rotation in 1979 after injuries to other pitchers. He earned a spot in the rotation for the remainder of the year after some strong outings. He finished the year 10-9, the only Giants starter with a winning record. Curtis signed a 5-year, 1.8 million dollar deal with the San Diego Padres and figured to be part of their rotation in 1980.

As an amatuer, Curtis defeated the Cuban national team at the 1967 Pan-American Games and was drafted by the Red Sox one year later. He made his major league debut in 1970, and fit into the Red Sox staff, first as a reliever and then a starter.

He was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1974 and then to the Giants in 1977. In both stops, Curtis split time starting and relieving. After three seasons in San Diego, he was traded to the California Angels, where he would stay for three seasons. He retired after the 1984 season, winning 89 games and saving 11 in his 15-year career.

During and after his baseball career, Curtis worked as an editor and freelance writer, and has been featured in Sports Illustrated. Also, he has been compiling information about a book on perfect games. Recently, he has been a pitching coach in the Brewers organization for the last six seasons.

Why I love this card
I always loved cards when you could somehow see the player's uniform number and Curtis' is on full display here. In a different time, it was another form of connection with a player when you could identify with his number. That and the awesome shot of the second baseman getting ready in the background.

Something else.....
Curtis is the first of 66 players in this set whose cards were double printed. This was not a uncommon practice employed by Topps in the late 1970s/early 1980s. Listed in most card price guides as "DP" this particular card was printed in more quantity than the average card. I have no insight as to how or why certain players were chosen for this "honor" but Curtis is the first in the 1980 set.

#11 Jimmy Sexton

Who is this player?
Jimmy Sexton, shortstop, Houston Astros.
Sexton was a little-used backup during his time in the Major Leagues. He didn't make the Astros roster coming out of spring training in 1980 and did not appear in a major league game during that season.

Sexton was originally drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1970, before being traded to the Seattle Mariners in 1976. He played briefly for the Seattle Mariners in their inaugural season (1977) before being traded again, this time to Houston.

It was with the Astros where Sexton would log most of his action. However, a low batting average and less than stellar fielding percentage limited his playing time. After spending all of 1980 in the minors, he was traded to the Oakland A's, and he appeared in just seven games in 1981. While he had his best year at the plate with Oakland in 1982, he was still unable to land an everyday assignment. He signed on as a late-season free agent with the Cardinals in 1983 to end his brief career.

Why I love this card
Any chance to see the rainbow Astros jersey and orange hats is a good one. However, Sexton appears to be taking the handoff from center more than he would be fielding a ground ball.

Something else.....
Love seeing all of the minor league stops on the back of this card; Niagra Falls, Bradenton, Charleston, San Jose....In 1980, you didn't regularly get this kind of information and it was always interesting to see.

#10 Dennis Martinez

Who was this player?
Dennis Martinez, starting pitcher, Baltimore Orioles. Coming into the 1980 season, Martinez established himself as one of the key arms to arguably the best pitching staff in baseball. At 25 years old, he was coming off of two straight 15+ win and 275+ IP seasons and an appearance in the 1979 World Series.

Dennis Martinez was the first Nicaraguan-born baseball player in history. He was a durable pitcher who played for five teams (Orioles, Expos, Indians, Mariners, Braves) during his career. A four-time All Star, has the most career victories of any pitcher (245) who never won 20 games in a single season.

While Martinez would lead the league in wins in 1981 and post 16 more in 1982, the grips of alcoholism claimed two seasons before he could overcome the disease. Once conquered, a now-healthy Martinez returned to the Baltimore rotation in 1985 and was traded to the Montreal Expos in 1986. In Montreal, Martinez would win 100 games, the second most in team history. Immortality came on July 28, 1991 when "El Presidente" pitched only the 11th perfect game in Major League history against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

In 1994, he moved along to the Cleveland Indians and his veteran presence on the mound helped lead the Indians to the World Series in 1995. He finished his career as a setup man with the Atlanta Braves in 1998.

Why I love this card
Today, I don't even think of him as "Denny" but in the late 1970s and early 1980s all of his Topps cards refer to him that way. That, and the umpire looking over his shoulder while Martinez is in full huff-and-puff mode makes it all the more awesome.

Something else.....
On September 28, 1995, Martínez was the last man to pitch to the late Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett in a regular-season game. A wild pitch by Martínez broke Puckett's jaw; the following spring during Grapefruit League spring training, Puckett developed glaucoma in his right eye and never played again.

#9 Steve Braun

Who was this player?
Steve Braun, utility player, Kansas City Royals. In 1980, Braun was entering his 10th season as a major league player. Braun broke in with the Minnesota Twins in 1971 and established himself as a useful utility-man, playing five different positions. He became the Twins starting third baseman in 1973 and moved to left field in 1974. In 1975, he finished 11th in the American League in batting when he finished with a .302 average.

He became an original member of the Seattle Mariners when he was selected in the expansion draft for the 1977 season. He was traded to Kansas City in the early part of 1978 and played in the ALCS for the Royals against the New York Yankees. Braun was unable to crack a loaded Royals lineup in his time in Kansas City and he was released during the 1980 season. He was signed by Toronto shortly thereafter.

In 1981, he signed with the St. Louis Cardinals where he would spend the remainder of his career. He played a key role as pinch hitting specialist for the 1982 World Champion Cardinals. In Game 7 his hit and RBI extended the Cardinals lead to clinch the first St. Louis championship since 1967. He would appear in a second World Series in 1985, against his old team, Kansas City. He would retire after that series after 15 seasons in the bigs.

Why I love this card
First, this is the first American Leaguer to receive a solo card in the 1980 set. Second, the pinch-hitter theme continues with the appearance of Braun. Mota, Unser, Lum and now Braun. Four of only 18 players in history to have more than 100 pinch hits in their career, and they are featured in the first nine cards of the set. Nice touch.

Something else.....
Today, Braun runs his own baseball academy in New Jersey.

#8 Craig Swan

Who was this player?
Craig Swan, starting pitcher for the New York Mets. When this card was printed, he was a National League ERA champ (in 1978 for a team that lost 96 games) and was coming off his most productive season. Indeed, he was one of the brightest spots in an inglorious era of Mets baseball. Consider in 1979, he finished with a winning record (14-13) for a team that lost 99 games. He more than doubled his next closest teammate in wins and won 22% of the Mets game that season. Swan was considered a rising star.

A torn rotator cuff in 1980 and a strange 1981 injury limited his playing time significantly. He became one of the first major league pitchers to return from a rotator cuff in 1982 with a strong comeback year. He hurt his arm again in early 1983 and started the transition to relief pitching. In early 1984, he was released by the Mets but caught on with the Angels, where he finished his 12 year career at the end of the season.

Swan's own arm injuries led him to study anatomy at the Rolf Institute in Colorado and led him to open his own practice in Connecticut.

Why I love this card
The facimile autograph of Swan looks as if someone tried their best to copy Swan's signature on the card themselves. Consider Swan's autograph:

Now compare that to the card. It looks as if someone didn't want their parents to see their report card.

Something else....
OK, OK, here is some more information about Rolfing. I didn't know either.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

#7 Mike Lum

Who was this player?
One of just 35 players in Major League history to be born in Hawaii, Mike Lum played 15 seasons, all of them in the National League. Lum was originally signed out of high school by the Milwaukee Braves. He also had a football scholarship to Brigham Young, but that was before the NCAA allowed an athlete to be a pro in one sport and compete in college as an amateur in another. He made his major league debut in 1967.

While in Atlanta, Lum played for the National League West champion Atlanta Braves in 1969 and appeared in the NLCS against the "Miracle" Mets. A career highlight came in 1970 when he hit three home runs in one game. His best season came in 1973, where he achieved career highs in nearly every offensive category. After the 1975 season he was traded to the Cincinnati Reds and was a member of the World Championship team in 1976.

In 1980, Lum was coming off a season that saw him split time between first base and pinch-hitting duties. However, the arrival of Chris Chambliss in Atlanta would see Lum's playing time diminish and he was most often used as a pinch batter. Lum would be traded the next season and spend a year in Japan (1982) before finally retiring.

After his playing days, Lum spent two years in the late 1980s as Kansas City's hitting instructor. He began a long association with the White Sox organization in 1990, eventually becoming hitting coordinator for player development for all minor-league teams.

Why I love this card
First, the "pinch-hitter theme" in the opening cards of the 1980 set continues with the appearance of Lum on the first regular issue card.
Second, the banner going across his chest almost completely covers the word "Braves" on the front of his jersey, yet it almost looks natural.

Something else.....
Lum is a member of the Hawaii Sports Hall of Fame. He was a member of the Class of 2001 with Lenn Sakata. I don't really have to add anything else to underscore how awesome that is.

#6 1979 Highlights: Del Unser

Who was this player?
Del Unser, pinch-hitter extraordinare of the Philadelphia Phillies. 1979 was Unser's transition year from an everyday player to a subsitute and he established a pinch-hitting record mentioned on this card. It happened in three times at bat He would be a hero of the 1980 Phillies World Champion team.

Why I love this card:
As I have already professed my love for the Phillies road unis of this period (see card #4 Pete Rose), you have to love that pinch-hitters are featured prominantly in 2 of the first 6 cards of the set. Make it three if you count the McCovey card, who accomplished his highlight as a pinch hitter as well.

Something else.....
Unser is not alone in this record, although you would not get that by reading the card. Lee Lacy accomplished this same feat the year before (1978) yet did not get a card in the 1979 set.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

#5 1979 Highlights: Garry Templeton

Who was this player?
Garry Templeton, at the time the shortstop of the St. Louis Cardinals. The switch hitting speedster was, in most "experts" estimation, destined for greatness. Indeed, his accomplishment of 100 hits from both sides of the plate had never happened before, nor has it happened since. Consider the switch hitters in baseball history: Mickey Mantle. Pete Rose. Eddie Murray. Lance Berkman. Ricky Peters. None of them ever accomplished this feat and it hasn't been repeated. That qualifies it as impressive. And I got to get a Ricky Peters reference in there.

Why I love this card
Because I got to get in a Ricky Peters reference.

Something else.....
At the time this card came out, Templeton had led the National League in triples in each of the last three seasons. Yet his nickname is/was "Jumpsteady." Any clarification on this would be helpful.

#4 1979 Highlights: Pete Rose

Who was this player?
Pete Rose, the all-time hits leader. The unfortunate demise of his legacy by his own hand has obscured if not outright dwarfed his achievements on the field. Take this card for example. 10 seasons of 200 or more hits? That's pretty impressive, considering he beat out Ty Cobb to do it. But don't look now - Ichiro has done it 8 times.

Why I love this card:
The Phillies toilet-water blue road unis on full display. I don't know why, but sometime during the late 1970s and early 1980s it was fashionable to trade in the road greys for this color, especially in the NL East. Chicago, St. Louis, Montreal, Philly all had them as did Kansas City, Seattle, Texas, Minnesota, Milwaukee and Toronto. That's 10 of 28 team folks, nearly half the teams.

Something else.....

Consider this too: the blue roads were considered conservative for the time with Pittsburgh, Houston, San Diego and Oakland all out there. There were a lot of color combinations out there. Consider the defending World Champion Pirates:

Friday, April 17, 2009

#3 1979 Highlights: Manny Mota

Who was this player?
Manuel Rafael Mota Geronimo, or Manny Mota. Mota's career was pretty much done by 1980 after he established the all-time pinch hitting record. 1980 was a big year for Manny as he was named as hitting coach for the Dodgers and achieved immortality in the movie "Airplane" when Ted Striker's voice was creating an echo.

Why I love this card:
This photo looks like it was taken at a night game. I cannot recall another card from this era something similar. Also the photo is a great action shot of Mota in full swing with his name and number in full view.

Something else...
I like how the back of the card even indicates the location of the record breaking hit, and the fact that Smokey Burgess gets mentioned by name.

#2 1979 Highlights: Willie McCovey

Who was this player?
Willie McCovey was in the twilight of a Hall of Fame career by 1980. However, during 1979, he joined the illustrious 500-home run club (when it was illustrious) and established the mark for most home runs by a NL left handed batter (as noted in the card). McCovey would retire midway through the 1980 season and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1986.

Why I love this card:
Nearly a full body shot of McCovey in action. Showing off the all-white Giants uniforms of the 1970s, he appears to have popped this one up instead of blasting it out, but that's not the point.

Something else....
Pretty sure that the catcher barely visible is a Pittsburgh Pirate (again nice acknowledgement since he accomplished his "highlight" against the Pirates). However, check out the fan at the top of McCovey's bat. Are those 3D glasses, or is that Catwoman is attendance at this game?