Monday, November 30, 2009

#203 1979 Runs Batted In Leaders

What is this card?
1979 Runs Batted In Leaders Card
Don Baylor of the AL West Champion Angels led the majors with 139 RBI. Dave Winfield of the San Diego Padres was the National League Leader with 118. Baylor is the first player to appear on a Leader card that also made it to the postseason in '79, while Winfield is the first future Hall of Famer.

How was the race? Both men had significant challenges from multiple pursuers. Winfield sewed up the NL race with two 4-RBI games in September to hold off Dave Kingman and Mike Schmidt. Baylor surged ahead in late-August with an 8-RBI game. The runner-up in the AL, Jim Rice (130), along with Gorman Thomas (123) and Fred Lynn (122), would all have led the National League with their RBI totals.

Where are the 1980 League Leaders? Mike Schmidt, the NL leader was third in the league while Cecil Cooper of the Milwaukee Brewers placed eighth on the American League leaderboard.

Did these players ever repeat? No. While Winfield would place in the Top 10 on ten different occasions during his career, the highest he ever finished was third. Baylor, meanwhile, only placed one more time among the league leaders in RBI.

Why I love this card
Two completely new guys pictured. Winfield in particular was foregin to me because the Padres were rarely on TV and weren't known for great players. I also thought that it was strange that the AL Top Ten outweighed the NL's in RBI, but the opposite was true for home runs.

Something else....
I am glad that Topps decided to write out Runs Batted In instead of abbreviating it. If anything, they decided to truncate "Leaders" into LDRS.

#202 1979 Home Run Leaders

What is this card?
1979 Home Run Leaders Card
Dave Kingman of the Chicago Cubs led the major leagues with 48 home runs in 1979 and Gorman Thomas was the American League leader with 45. This is the second straight category where the NL leader was also the Major League leader.

How was the race? Kingman got off to a fast start and was the league leader at the All Star break. He was pursued closely by Mike Schmidt and even surpassed "Kong" at one point during the second half. Kingman clinched the title with seven homers in September. Thomas had 30 homers by mid-August and was not seriously challenged by his twin pursuers from Boston, Fred Lynn and Jim Rice.

Where are the 1980 League Leaders? Schmidt was the 1980 NL leader and finished second here. Reggie Jackson and Ben Oglivie, who finished tied for seventh in '79, would both go on to lead the AL in 1980.

Did these players ever repeat? Yes. Kingman would lead the National League in home runs in 1982 and finish in the Top Ten on ten different occasions in his career. Likewise, Thomas would also lead his league in homers in 1982, albeit in a tie with Reggie Jackson. Gorman would place in the Top Ten six times during his career.

Why I love this card
I remember the day I got this card. Being from the Midwest, I grew up in an anti-Yankee/Dodger/Red Sox/Phillies/Angels neighborhood. While we mostly rooted for the Tigers, we also gravitated to the Pirates, Royals, Indians, Reds, Brewers and Cubs. This card gave us as fans some validation that "our" players were just as good as "theirs."

Something else....
21 players listed on the reverse of this card, only five would wind up in Cooperstown. Interesting to see Willie Horton listed here in his final hurrah, same for Davey Lopes, who I never would have guessed finished in the top 10 in home runs. Ever.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

#201 1979 Batting Leaders

What is this card?
1979 Batting Leaders Card
Keith Hernandez of the Cardinals led all of baseball with a .344 average and Fred Lynn led the Junior circuit with a .333 average.

How was the race? Hernandez really didn't face one. If any, his strongest challenge came from his teammate Garry Templeton. Lynn, meanwhile, had a late-season challenge from George Brett of the Kansas City Royals. Brett never overtook Lynn and never got closer than three points.

Where are the 1980 League Leaders? American League leader George Brett finished second in 1979, National League leader Bill Buckner did not place in the top 10 during 1979.

Did these players ever repeat? No. Hernandez was runner-up in 1980 and finished in the Top 10 seven times in his career. Lynn never again finished in the Top 10.

Why I love this card
I always loved getting a League Leaders card. It was almost a two-for-one since both players pictured were stars. It made the card that much more special. However, what I liked about this card was that Lynn was wearing a red cap. In his regular issue card he is wearing a navy cap as had several of his teammates in other cards. I didn't realize that Topps just used an older picture of Lynn.

Something else....
There is an interesting group of names here. Out of the 20 names listed here, only four would wind up in the Hall of Fame.

The Second 100 Cards - A Review

Here's a brief review of the second 100 cards of the 1980 set. The division leaders so far are:

AL East - Boston - 10 cards
AL West - Kansas City/Minnesota/Texas - 8 cards
NL East - New York/Philadelphia/St. Louis - 9 cards
NL West - Los Angeles/San Francisco - 9 cards

The division races are tightening although several of these teams have been aided by the Highlights cards and will continue to be aided by the upcoming Leaders cards. The Cubs and Blue Jays have had the fewest cards so far, with 6.

There has been a pretty interesting breakdown of cards by position. The first six are Highlight cards and then it goes like this:

Catchers - 10 (22 total)
Firs Basemen - 4 (8 total)
Second Basemen - 3 (8 total)
Third Basemen - 6 (7 total)
Shortstops - 3 (10 total)
Outfielders - 19 (34 total)
Designated Hitters - 1 (2 total)
Utilitymen - 9 (19 total)
Starting Pitchers - 27 (45 total)
Relief Pitchers - 15 (29 total)
Swingmen - 0 (3 total)
Team Cards - 2 (6 total)
Checklist - 1 (1 total)

Like the first 100 cards, there were 4 regular issues of Hall of Famers and all of them have been inducted this decade (Perez, Gossage, Murray and Rice).

There was also a big influx of starting pitchers in this batch, by far the most represented of all of the positions.

Finally, there is a pretty even breakdown in the type of photo on the card:

First, the traditional headshot of a player - 37 cards (70 total)
A posed "action" shot - 25 cards (44 total)
Game action photos - 35 cards (73 total)

Glad to see that the action photos used in this set still carry a lead after 200 cards.

Thanks again to all of you who have been following along, I appreciate your comments and support.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

#200 Jim Rice

Who is this player?
Jim Rice, left fielder, Boston Red Sox
Hall of Fame, Class of 2009
Probably the most feared righthanded hitter in the game at this time, if you got a Jim Rice card in 1980, it would be a good day. After a strong start, Rice suffered through an 0-18 slump in May and was hit by a pitch in June. He suffered a fractured wrist and missed more than a month over the summer, including the All-Star Game where he was voted by the fans to start. He regained his stroke upon his return and was named AL Player of the Month in September. Rice finished the year with 24 home runs, which still placed him ninth in the American League.

Jim Rice played his entire 16-year career in Boston, linking him with Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski in a lineage of Hall of Fame left fielders that stretched for 50 seasons. A product of Anderson, South Carolina, Rice was signed by scout Mace Brown. Jim was the first selection of the Red Sox in 1971 and proceeded to dominate the minor leagues. His team won the Junior World Series in 1973 and Jim was the International League MVP and Triple Crown winner the following year. He was promoted to the Red Sox in the latter stages of the 1974 season, poised to make history.

In 1975, with fellow rookie Fred Lynn, the "Goldust Twins" led the Red Sox to the AL pennant. Unfortunately, Rice missed the postseason, including the famous 1975 Series, thanks to a broken hand suffered on September 21. Rice became a perennial All-Star, being so honored nine times during his career. He was also a consistent MVP candidate, winning the award in 1978 in what would be the finest season of his career. That year, he led the league in hits, slugging, triples, home runs and RBI. Amazingly, his 406 total bases that year established a franchise record on a team historically renowned for its hitters.

Rice indeed have a prolific career at the plate. He led the league in homers three times, total bases four times and had 100 RBI in a season on eight different occassions. He helped lead the Red Sox back to the World Series, this time in 1986 and Rice batted .333 in Boston's heartbreaking loss. While not acknowledged for his fielding, he mastered the Green Monster in left as had his predecessors. He was also known for grounding into double plays, for which he set a single season record in 1984 with 36.

After his playing days ended unceremoniously in 1989, Rice stayed within the Red Sox family as a coach and broadcaster. As the Red Sox gained prominenance in the 2000's, Rice's case for the Hall of Fame grew stronger. He was inducted in 2009, his final year of eligibility and the Red Sox honored him by retiring his number. Despite a summer of accolades, Rice caused a minor contoversy by criticizing Manny Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter.

Why I love this card
This card captures Rice perfectly at this stage in his career. He is truly intimidating here as he awaits the pitch. Flip the card over and absorb the stat line that he has put forth at this point. I can remember sitting on the porch being in awe at Rice's combination of power and average. I thought he was a Hall of Famer for sure. Granted, while the 1980s wore on my opinion on Rice changed. Injuries limited him and I didn't view him as a Hall of Famer, but every time I see this card, I remember the other side of the argument.

Something else....
I think the Rice was unfairly given the persona of being moody or uncooperative. During his entire career he lended his time and name to children's charity and I personally witnessed him sign autographs for kids while skipping over adults. Here is a story of how he saved a young fan's life in 1982.

Pictured below is Jim Rice's 1980 Topps Burger King card. At first glance they appear to be the same card, but the BK card's photo of Rice is slightly moved to the left. Likewise, you can see Rice's right foot under the Red Sox banner which seems to be the bold font as compared to the base set issue.

Friday, November 27, 2009

#199 Mike LaCoss

Who is this player?
Mike LaCoss, starting pitcher, Cincinnati Reds
As one of the promising young pitchers in the National League, Mike LaCoss began the season as the #2 starter on the defending NL West champion Cincinnati Reds. He began quickly, winning his first three decisions including a complete game shutout. However, LaCoss did not have a particularly good season in 1980 and the Reds finished in third place. His ERA rose over a full run from the previous season and he finished with a losing record (10-12). While there was some concern within the Reds over LaCoss' performance, the team was hopeful that a return to form was in the cards in 1981.

Selected by the Reds in the third round of the 1974 draft, the righthanded LaCoss had a decent minor league career, earning the attention of the parent club in 1978. It was in the minor leagues that he earned his nickname "Buffy" after the star of "Family Affair." When he notched 11 wins in less than half of the year, the Reds promoted him to Cincinnati and he made his major league debut on July 18, 1978. Although he finished the year 4-8, the Reds only scored 13 runs in his eight losses and he entered 1979 a part of Cincinnati's starting rotation.

1979 would be one of the best season's of LaCoss' career. He began the year 8-0 and earned a spot on the National League All-Star team. He was consistently among the league ERA leaders until a late season slump took him out of consideration. His 14 wins were a career high as the Reds went to the playoffs before losing in the NLCS. LaCoss would never regain his 1979 form in Cincinnati and after a poor 1981 season (4-7 6.12 ERA) he was released by the Reds. Fortunately, he was quickly signed by the Houston Astros. He spent three nondescript years (1982-1984) in Houston were he served as a reliable swingman and middle reliever.

Mike spent the first half of 1985 with the Kansas City Royals but was sent to the minor leagues in August, missing the Royals' World Championship run. He signed as a free agent with the San Francisco Giants where his career was extended by Roger Craig and the split-fingered fastball. Commanding the pitch, LaCoss was placed into the starting rotation, where he spent the next six seasons, winning 47 games. He also twice appeared in the post-season with San Francisco, including his only World Series appearance in 1989.

Knee surgery ended his 1990 season prematurely, and LaCoss' 14-year major league career ended the following year when he was released midway during the 1991 season. He appeared at the closing ceremonies at Candlestick Park in 1999 and like most of his contemporaries he shared his skills as a coach. Most recently he was a roving minor league pitching instructor with the Cincinnati Reds.

Why I love this card
I didn't know about the "Buffy" nickname at the time. If I had, it probably would have really creeped me out . What I do remember is the mention of the All-Star game on the reverse. For the longest time, anybody named as an All-Star in my mind was a notch above the "common" player. I had yet to figure out the cards ending in 5 or 0 were the true indicators of star status.

Something else....
LaCoss hit his only career home runs in consecutive at-bats though in different games. The first was on June 23, 1986 off utility infielder Dane Iorg, who was pitching at the end of a 18-1 Giants win. Six days later, in his first at-bat, he homered off Tom Browning.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

#198 Dell Alston

Who is this player?
Dell Alston, reserve outfielder, Cleveland Indians
1980 would be the fourth and final major league season for Dell Alston. Although he was the leading Tribe hitter in Spring Training, he appeared in just 52 games for the sixth-place Indians. The lefthanded hitting Alston batted a meager .222. He spent parts of the summer at Triple-A Tacoma and only batted .220 there as well. Alston stayed on the Cleveland roster throughout the off season but was released shortly before the 1981 season began.

Alston was originally signed by the New York Yankees as an amateur free agent in 1972. He had an lengthy minor league career where he was named an All-Star several times and earned a reputation as one of the Yankees top prospects. However, in New York, Alston was more often than not used as a pawn in the ongoing George Steinbrenner-Billy Martin-Reggie Jackson "Bronx Zoo" feud of 1977.

When Martin complained in the press over personnel, Steinbrenner responded by promoting Alston to the majors. Martin responded by using Alston instead of Reggie in an effort to bury Jackson on the bench. Despite that, Alston still managed to hit .325 in 22 games. The following season, he was traded to the Oakland A's, but batted only .208. The Athletics released him in March of 1979 and he signed on with the Indians.

In two years with Cleveland he split time between the majors and Triple-A, but hit .290 in 54 games with the Indians. He was used mainly as a pinch-hitter, with occasional starts in left field. A highlight came on the final day of the 1979 season when his hit in the bottom of the 11th won the game for Cleveland. He was also in attendance at the funeral of Thurman Munson for which he was interviewed for a 2009 book.

Why I love this card
Dell Alston tricked me. Sometimes on a wax pack you could tighten the wrapper and figure out who a player was or what team he played for. I tried this trick on a pack one day at the 7-11 and clearly saw the cartoon here with the home plate and "77". I swore that it was Omar Moreno, and I loved the Pirates. After all, he stole 77 bases in 1979 so it made sense. Poor Alston, I held it against him that whole summer.

Something else....
Here is another one of the Double Printed cards of the 1980 set. In addition to being a DP card, this card is Alston's last Topps card in his last major league season. Donruss saw fit to print a card of him in the 1981 set, but Topps passed.

Monday, November 23, 2009

#197 Byron McLaughlin

Who is this player?
Byron McLaughlin, relief pitcher, Seattle Mariners
The summer of 1980 was not a memorable one for Mariners' relief pitcher Bryon McLaughlin. He was hit hard on Opening Day, a preview of difficulties to come. When April ended, his ERA was 8.36. At the end of May it was 9.25. He improved somewhat over the summer, but his ERA still hovered over 6.00. He was given a few opportunities to start, but didn't perform well in that role either. On the pitching-starved Mariners that lost 103 games, he finished the year 3-6 record. After four years in Seattle, Byron was traded in December to the Minnesota Twins.

Originally signed by the Montreal Expos in 1973, The righthanded McLaughlin was released and also spent time with the Baltimore organization where he was similarly cut loose. The 1977 Mariners, in their first season, signed McLaughlin pitching out of Nuevo Laredo in the Mexican League and he made is major league debut in September of that year. He began the year in Seattle but bounced between the major leagues and Triple-A. Appearing mainly as a starting pitcher, he finished 4-8 with a highlight being a complete game, 10 strikeout performance against Chicago.

In 1979, McLaughlin was sent to the bullpen where he was given the closer role. Despite a high ERA, he led the team with 14 saves. He was poised to share the role in 1980 with Dave Heaverlo, but his poor start never allowed him to regain the position. He failed to make the Minnesota Twins in 1981 and returned to Mexico for two season. The California Angels signed him in 1983 and he briefly appeared with the Halos, pitching ineffectively. It would be the final season of his five year career.

His connections in Mexico would serve him well in the mid to late 1980s. Simply, he was part of a group that made a deal with Korean companies to manufacture cheap counterfeit sneakers for the Mexican market. The scheme would earn $750,000 a month as the fake Reeboks and Converse were sold in Mexico at 100% markup. Eventually the authorities caught up with him and he faced criminal charges of money laundering. McLaughlin posted bail, and with $2.5 million in an overseas account, skipped sentencing and fled the country. It is believed that McLaughlin is somewhere in France although his whereabouts have not been confirmed in almost twenty years.

Why I love this card
Two things that jumped out for me as a kid on this card. First, it looks as if McLaughlin is trying to stamp out the Mariners banner on the bottom of his card. Seeing how his 1980 season went, can't say that I blame him. Second, I love what appears to be the desert mountains in center field. After so many of the Spring Training shots appearing to be in a park, this one is different.

Something else....
Why hasn't McLaughlin been featured on America's Most Wanted yet?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

#196 Lance Parrish

Who is this player?
Lance Parrish, catcher, Detroit Tigers
Regarded as the top young catcher in the American League, Lance Parrish of the Detroit Tigers had his breakout season in 1980. The righthanded hitting Parrish slugged 24 home runs, leading his team and was selected to his first All Star Game. He was also recognized at the end of the season by winning his first of six Silver Slugger Awards. Parrish would be the cornerstone on which the Tigers of the 1980s would be built.

Born in Clairton, Pennsylvania, Lance Parrish moved to southern California when he was a young boy. Graduating from Walnut High in Diamond Bar, he was a first round selection of the Detroit Tigers in 1974. After three seasons working up the minor league ladder, Lance made his debut in September 1977 and from that point was in the majors for good. Originally a below average defensive catcher, he would improve his defensive skills considerably, eventually winning the Gold Glove three times and being known for the bright orange perimeter around his catcher's mitt.

In 10 years in Detroit, Parrish was the most feared hitter in the Tigers lineup. A consistent home run threat, Lance was an awesome physical specimen in the days prior to the "Steroid Era." He established an American League record in 1982 when he clubbed 32 homers as a catcher and earned national attention by throwing out three base runners in that summer's All-Star Game. In 1984, he was the cleanup hitter on a dominant Detroit Tiger team that won the World Series. Averaging 21 HR and 70 RBI a season, he was leading the majors in homers in 1986 when his season was prematurely ended due to a back injury.

He signed a free agent contract with the Phillies amidst much fanfare, but was never the same player. He spent only two seasons in Philly where the fans were brutal to him, even booing his wife and son at different points. He returned to California as a member of the Angels and was an All-Star in 1990. Lance played for five teams (Angels, Mariners, Indians, Pirates, Blue Jays) in his final four seasons, retiring after the 1995 season and 19 years in the majors.

Lance has been active since his playing days coaching and managing at both the major and minor league level. He returned to Detroit in the early 2000s, first as a television commentator and then as a coach from 2003-2005. He was the inaugural manager of the Great Lake Loons in 2007. After many years living in California, Lance moved to Tennessee in 2009. He also had surgery on his knee and rotator cuff to repair some old nagging injuries. Parrish returned to Detroit in September 2009 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the 1984 champions.

Why I love this card
While he grew up in California, Parrish was born in the same town as my Dad, Clairton, PA a small town 13 miles south of Pittsburgh. Sometimes Parrish's place of birth (including this card) is listed as McKeesport, PA, a neighboring town where the hospital was located. Needless to say, that was a very cool fact that made me very proud to say that my Dad and Lance Parrish shared a hometown. I spent every summer from 1972-1988 in some capacity with my Dad's family. In fact, a Parrish is buried on the same hill as my grandparents and whether it's true or not, I always believed that somehow there was a connection.

Something else....
I could go on and on about Parrish. My interest in the game coincided with the rise of the Tigers as a contender and Parrish as an All-Star, so there is alot about him that had to be left out. Worth mentioning however:

* He guest starred as himself on an episode of Diff'rent Strokes. Really.

* He served as a bodyguard for Tina Turner.

* Rookie Mike Piazza beat him out for the final spot on the 1993 Dodgers.

However, another personal Parrish story will serve here. September 12, 1981. Family outing to Tiger Stadium for a ballgame. We had a large group with us as family from Pittsburgh were with us at the game. Had seats in the lower deck in left field. Game goes 12 innings and over 4 hours. My sister and young cousin begin whining to leave and eventually the adults agree. As we are heading out the exit a large roar from the crowd arises as Parrish hits a laser that crashes into my Dad's now unoccupied seat. We look at each other in astonishment. With Tiger Stadium going crazy over Parrish's game-winning blast, Dad looks at me and says "Not a word." He still doesn't like to talk about the home run ball he missed.

To finally close the book on Parrish, here is his 2003 Fan Favorite Card for comparison and voting. The 2005 Ray Knight defeated its 1980 counterpart 5-2 in the last vote off. Booth is open on the right.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Check Them Out!

Over the past month or so, several new blogs have popped up that I would like to give some special recognition to.

First up is a brand new blog started by a very good friend and supporter of this site. Focusing on the truly unique 1978 Grand Slam set, if you are unfamiliar with this or have never seen it, make this one of your daily stops. You will not be disappointed. 199 of the 200 cards in this set have been autographed. I have been along for the ride for some of this quest and appreciate how much has gone into it. Give it a look. Here is card #3 from the set, Hall of Famer Earl Averill

Another great blog is My First Cards, which is featuring the 1982 Topps set. Being the set specific guy that I am, this one is another favorite of mine. Below is my personal favorite 1982 card which I was ready to pitch until my Dad told me what an error card was.

Some other great sets being featured on active blogs are:

1966 Topps
1967 Topps
1968 Topps
1975 Topps
1978 Topps

And of course, special mention is deserved for the Project Baseball 1976 set, who day-in, day-out does a great job and is one of my original motivations. Thanks again.

Monday, November 16, 2009

#195 John Montefusco

Who is this player?
John Montefusco, starting pitcher, San Francisco Giants
By the time this card was being pulled from packs in 1980, John Montefusco was no longer seen as the colorful eccentric ace of the San Francisco Giants. "The Count" began the season inconsistently and drew the wrath of manager Dave Bristol when he missed a start in May to a sore throat. He was sent to the bullpen for a month and later got into a fight with Bristol after a game in June. He went on the disabled list with a cracked rib and missed more than a month of action. He finished 1980 with only four wins and was traded to Atlanta in December for Doyle Alexander.

Discovered by Giants scouts while playing in a New Jersey industrial league, the righthanded Montefusco was signed as a free agent in 1972. He quickly became known for his predictions, boldly stating he would make the Giants staff in two years. True to his word, he was given a September look in 1974. That performance earned him a spot in the starting rotation for the 1975 season, which would ultimately become his most memorable.

Starting the season 5-0, the brash righthander taunted opposing players, specifically the Los Angeles Dodgers, reigniting the legendary feud between the two teams. He predicted that he would shutout teams and strike out star players. As his win total increased, he also began to openly campaign for the Rookie of the Year award. He finished the year with 15 wins and was seventh in the league with a 2.88 ERA. At season's end, he did indeed win the Rookie of the Year and was even fourth in the Cy Young voting. At 25, it seemed that "The Count's" best years were ahead of him.

John picked up where he left off in 1976, predicting that he would win 20 games and the Cy Young Award. He was selected to the All-Star Game that season and pitched two innings of scoreless relief. The highlight of the season came on his last start of the season, where he pitched a no-hitter against the Atlanta Braves. In all, John won 16 games in 1976 and led the league with 6 shutouts. The injury bug hit Montefusco in 1977 and it effected every following season John spent in San Francisco. His injuries reduced him to an average pitcher and he never regained the status that he enjoyed in 1975-76.

Traded to Atlanta for the 1981 season, Montefusco became somewhat of a journeyman, with stops in San Diego and then to the New York Yankees. He made an effort to change his image as a free-spirit, likely due to his final days in San Francisco. He became a swingman for the remaining years of his career. When the Yankees released him in May of 1986, his 13-year career had come to and end. He was the manager and pitching coach of the independent Somerset Patriots of the Atlantic League in the early 2000s. Today, Montefusco is enjoying retirement in his his native New Jersey.

Why I love this card
This was one of the names that we had a lot of fun of as a kid. We alternated between "Monte-FUSS-ko" and "Monte-FOOS-ko." Amazing how much time we spent arguing that point. And after going on about the pickoff picture on Dave Goltz, low and behold, here's another one.

Something else....
In recent years, Montefusco has had significant domestic issues that even led to his brief inprisonment. More about that can be read here. He even sued ESPN during this period because they referred to him in a similar vein to O.J. Simpson.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

#194 Mike Easler

Who is this player?
Mike Easler, leftfielder, Pittsburgh Pirates
Always a good hitter, Mike Easler had difficulty cracking the lineup of the Pittsburgh Pirates. When the injury bug bit the Buccos, the lefthand hitting Easler took full advantage of his opportunity to play every day. Inserted in leftfield in mid-May, his batting average rose over .400 in early June and he hit for the cycle. "The Hit Man" did just that, and his average remained over .350 for most of the summer. While he did not garner enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title, Easler finished the year at .338 and established himself as a fixture in the Pittsburgh lineup.

Mike Easler was drafted out of high school by the Houston Astros in 1969 and signed in return for a $500 tuition payment at Cleveland State University. He would be a batting champion and All-Star in the minors, but would spend the next 10 years struggling to make the major leagues with five organizations. He was given brief looks by the Houston Astros, California Angels and Pittsburgh Pirates and was nearly released by the Pirates in 1979. He saved his job with game-winning home run and the Pirates went on to win the World Championship.

He was named a National League All-Star in 1981, walking an scoring a run in the NL's victory in Cleveland. Easler was a .302 hitter during his days in Pittsburgh, averaging 13 HR and 56 RBI a season. Since Easler was a poor defensive player, he would often be replaced in the later innings. When the team decided in 1984 to rebuild around speed, defense and pitching they traded Easler to the Boston Red Sox for pitcher John Tudor.

Stationed as the Red Sox designated hitter, he appeared in career-high 156 games and had one of his best seasons, batting .313 with 27 HR and 91 RBI. His production slipped the following year and he was traded to the New York Yankees for fellow DH Don Baylor. He spent a season in New York, but was unhappy and demanded to be traded. The Yankees granted his wish and traded him to the Philadelphia Phillies, where he appeared in 33 games before he was traded back to the Yankees to finish the 1987 season. It would be the last in his 14-year major league career.

After his playing days, Easler spent many years as a hitting instructor and manager at the minor league level. He has also served as hitting coach for four major league teams, most recently the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2008. He replaced the recently-named Don Mattingly as coach when Mattingly left the team for family reasons. When Mattingly returned, Easler was demoted within the organization. He filed a grievance against the Dodgers in 2009 something he also did when let go by the Red Sox (in 1995) and Cardinals (in 2001).

Why I love this card
As a kid, we went to a Tiger game once or twice a year. It was a pretty big deal and it would be on the calendar for weeks. My Dad allowed me one souvenir and I always chose one of those plastic replica batting helmets. In 1980, my collection was thin. I got a Tiger one at my first ever game and a Pirate one at my second game in May 1980. This Easler card reminds me of my Dad getting me started on those helmets. In time, several of them broke or were lost, but I still have my Pirate one.

Something else....
Easler is married to the sister of contemporary major leaguer Cliff Johnson, who played 15 years with seven different teams, most notably the Blue Jays.

#193 Dave Goltz

Who is this player?
Dave Goltz, starting pitcher, Minnesota Twins
After averaging 14 victories for the six straight seasons, Dave Goltz signed a huge $3-million dollar contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers for the 1980 season. While Goltz was in demand, the six-year deal raised eyebrows around the league. He threw two complete-game shutouts in April, but lost five decisions in a row and didn't earn another victory until August. By then, his contract was being openly questioned and Goltz finished the season with a 7-11 record. He was given the ball for the one-game NL West playoff with the Houston Astros, but Goltz and the Dodgers lost 7-1.

The righthanded Goltz was the first native Minnesotan signed by the Twins to reach their major league roster. He was selected by the Twins after a scout discovered him throwing in his backyard the previous year. His rise to the major leagues was deterred by some arm trouble in the minors and a tour of duty in Vietnam in 1969. He did, however, rebound to fire a no-hitter during a 14-win 1971 campaign split between two Single-A clubs. He made his major league debut in 1972 against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium.

In his eight years with the Twins, Goltz became the fourth winningest pitcher in club history, never having a losing season. He established himself the ace of the staff in 1977 when he led the league with 20 wins and logged 303 innings pitched. He also led the league in games started and finished six in the AL Cy Young Voting. Goltz was also a notorious slow starter, having never won a game in April until 1979. Despite that, his 96 wins in a Twins uniform established him as a workhorse and one of the better pitchers in the league at that time.

Moved to the bullpen in 1981, Goltz made his first appearance in the postseason as the Dodgers advanced to the World Series. Dave pitched in two Series games as Los Angeles won their first World Championship in 16 years. When he started poorly to start the 1982 season, he was released by the Dodgers. The California Angels quickly signed him and he went 8-5 as the Angels went on to win the AL West. Goltz again pitched in the postseason, but California fell to the Milwaukee Brewers in five games. An 0-6 start, in addition to a torn rotator cuff, ended his 1983 season in June and would also end Goltz' 12-year major league career.

In retirement, Goltz has made a recent living making personal appearances and motivational speaking. Our friends over at Project Baseball 1976 even found that he did some work as an umpire for high school baseball games.

Why I love this card
This is a great action shot of Goltz. For years, I thought that he was delivering to home plate in this shot, but it is fairly obvious that he was attempting a pickoff throw. We've been through 193 cards and this is the first to feature any a guy attempting a pickoff. Sweet.

Something else....
Since the Save became an official statistic, Goltz holds the record for the most runs in a saved game. On June 6 1973, in Cleveland, he was charged with 8 runs in a 3 inning save; he helped to turn a 9-1 lead into a 13-9 win.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

#192 Bobby Cox Atlanta Braves Team Card

What is this card?
Team Card, Atlanta Braves, Bobby Cox Manager

After a last place finish in 1979, the Braves made several changes to their roster for the 1980 season. Atlanta had the worst ERA and fielding percentage in the National League and they attempted address both issues. First, they signed Al Hrabosky to add depth to the bullpen. They then traded for catcher Bill Nahorodny. The Braves made two big moves at the Winter Meetings by traded for Chris Chambliss and Luis Gomez from the Toronto Blue Jays and Doyle Alexander from the Texas Rangers.

The Braves had two of baseball's most promising young sluggers, Dale Murphy and Bob Horner. Murphy would be the team's lone representative in the All-Star Game. Right fielder Gary Matthews would combine with Murphy, Horner and Chambliss to form a solid middle of the lineup. Glenn Hubbard earned the second base job, which he would hold for the next eight years. However, some moves didn't work. Eddie Miller was the Opening Day centerfielder but disappeared after only 11 games.

On the mound, the Braves ahad a future Hall of Famer in pitcher Phil Niekro won was a 20 game winner (and loser) in 1979. Niekro would lead the league in games started as well as losses in 1980. Alexander was a valuable addition, winning 14 games. And while Hrabosky struggled, Rick Camp and Gene Garber combined to stabilize the back of Atlanta's bullpen. The rest of the starting rotation was reliable but unspectacular.

Atlanta struggled to start the season and as Spring turned into Summer, the team seemed in dissarray and Cox's job was in jeopardy. Horner feuded with the front office over his contract and the release of catcher Joe Nolan shook team morale. However, Cox was able to rally the troops and the team played well down the stretch to finish 81-80 and in fourth place.

The 1980 Braves were 11-1 against the defending World Champion Pittsburgh Pirates and finished with a .625 winning percentage at home (50-30). However, several years of poor finishes did not sway the Atlanta fans as they finished last in the National League in attendance. Atlanta's strong suit was the longball at the fabeled "Launching Pad" at Fulton County Stadium. They finished second in the league with 144 home runs. By contrast that total would today place them 13th in the league.

Why I love this card
The wigwam in the background. The scan of this card is not great, but Chief Nocahoma's teepee made this stand out for me. I thought it was cool that Atlanta's mascot was a real guy, not a someone in a suit.

Something else....
This card represents the only manager still in uniform with the team he is depicted with in 1980. Granted, Cox had a stint in Toronto, but still. Earlier this week, Terry Crowley was featured and he was in uniform with the Orioles in 2009. Is anyone aware of any other coach that is with the team he was also with in 1980?

Friday, November 13, 2009

#191 Ted Martinez

Who is this player?
Ted Martinez, utility infielder, Los Angeles Dodgers
When the 1980 season opened, Ted Martinez was not on the Dodgers major league roster. He spent the entire season at Triple-A Albuquerque in the Pacific Coast League. Playing primarily shortstop, he struggled at the plate, hitting only .234 and was not recalled for the Dodgers NL West stretch drive. Martinez would not return to the major leagues, ending a nine-year major league career.

Born Teodoro Noel Encarnacion Martinez in Barahona, Dominican Republic, Teddy Martinez was a signed as a free agent by the New York Mets in 1966. A solid minor league hitter, Martinez was groomed as a shortstop, but found his path to the majors blocked by Bud Harrelson. He made his debut in 1970 and eventually worked his way onto the Mets roster as a valuable defender.

Martinez was a valuable addition as a versatile player that could play three infield and all outfield positions. As part of the eventual 1973 NL East champions, Teddy had a 4-RBI game against the Phillies that included a home run off of Hall of Famer Steve Carlton (Martinez hit only seven HR in his career). This game would be part of a furious Mets rally that saw them win the pennant and storm into the World Series, only to fall to the Oakland A's in seven games. Martinez saw action in that Series, twice appearing as a pinch runner.

Traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1975, he split the season between St. Louis and Oakland, with whom he would again appear in the postseason. Martinez saw action in all three games of the ALCS, but the A's were swept by the Boston Red Sox. He was released by the A's in early 1976 and signed on with the Reds. Martinez spent that year in the minors as the Big Red Machine rolled to their second straight championship.

The final three years of his career were spent in Los Angeles, primarily as a reserve to the great Dodger infield of the 1970s. Martinez was a .280 hitter during his time in LA, 40 points higher than his career mark. Los Angeles twice went to the World Series during Martinez time with the Dodgers, but he did not appear in the postseason either year. In retirement, Martinez was a coach around the globe, most recently as a Dodgers representative in Taiwan as teams have expanded their search for major league talent.

Why I love this card
In addition to these cards, Saturday morning cartoons were a huge part of my childhood. Challenge of the Superfriends, Hong Kong Phooey, Scooby-Doo, Richie Rich, it was predictable where I was on Saturday's between 8 and 10 AM. One of my favorites was the Bugs Bunny & Road Runner Show. What does this have to do with Martinez? Part Bugs Bunny, part Wile E. Coyote. Remember, this is a nine year old mind at work here.

Something else....
This card would be the last card of Martinez's active career.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

#190 Buddy Bell

Who is this player?
Buddy Bell, third baseman, Texas Rangers
Due mainly to the outstanding season by George Brett, the season put forth by Buddy Bell in 1980 went largely unnoticed. However, there was little doubt that when the year ended, Buddy Bell was one of the finest third basemen in the game. He was recognized as an All-Star and was the AL's Gold Glove winner at third. His batting average was among the league leaders for the entire year and he finished with a career high .329 average. When Pat Corrales was fired as Rangers manager, Bell asked to be traded.

Born the son of major leaguer Gus Bell, young Buddy had the pedigree for baseball stardom. He was a multi-sport star in high school and led his team to a baseball league championship. The Indians drafted him in 1969 and he was in the major leagues within three years. He was voted to the Topps rookie team in 1972 and was the Indians' representative in the 1973 All Star Game, where he had a triple in his only appearance.

The righthand hitting Bell spent seven seasons in Cleveland, where he established himself as a solid fan favorite. He consistently led his teams in several offensive categories, yet was overlooked due to the poor performance of the Indians during this time. He was traded to Texas for Toby Harrah in December 1978 in an unpopular move in Cleveland. It was in Arlington that Bell elevated his game. He won six consecutive Gold Gloves, batted .290 or better five times and was the Silver Slugger winner in 1984.

In the middle of the 1985 season, Bell was traded to the Cincinnati Reds, where his father also had been a fan favorite in the late 1950s. This was a very popular addition with Reds fans, and Buddy responded with two more solid years. In 1988, he began to fade, and was traded to the Houston Astros. Bell was released in December and returned with the Rangers for the 1989 season, his 18th and final season.

After several seasons as a major league coach, Bell was given his first managerial position in 1996 with the Detroit Tigers, and was later named manager of the Colorado Rockies and Kansas City Royals. Bell took a medical leave of absence in 2006 when a lump was discovered on his tonsils. He retired from managing after the 2007 season to spend more time with his family, primarily due to his cancer diagnosis.

Why I love this card
Way before "Field of Dreams" the cartoon on Bell's card struck a cord with me. Playing catch with my Dad was always a big deal, and the cartoon is what I thought things would be like when I grew up. Of course, I would be in the major leagues and still playing catch with my Dad. I never got to be in the majors, but did play "Running Bases" catch with Dad this summer with my son in the middle. No matter what, an awesome memory.

Something else....
For the longest time, Bell's 1979 season was the only time a major leaguer had 200 hits in a season and did not bat .300 for the year. Since then, though, Bell has been joined by Jimmy Rollins in this unique category when Rollins had 212 hits and batted .296 in 2007.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

#189 Kevin Kobel

Who is this player?
Kevin Kobel, relief pitcher, New York Mets
When the 1980 season opened, Kevin Kobel had earned a spot in the New York Mets' bullpen after being "on the bubble" during Spring Training. He walked three of the eight batters he faced in his first outing and things didn't improve for him. After four appearances, Kobel's ERA swelled to 9.00. He continued to struggle and was used infrequently. In June, he was traded to the Kansas City Royals and Kobel spent the remainder of 1980 at Triple-A Omaha. It would prove to be the last of six major league campaigns for Kobel.

Originally from Buffalo, New York, the lefthanded Kobel was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers shortly after his high school graduation in 1971. He earned a brief look by the parent club in late-1973 but was unimpressive in two games against division rivals Boston and New York. The following season, however, Kobel earned a spot in the Milwaukee rotation. Although he was 6-14, he achieved career bests in innings pitched, shutouts and complete games. A highlight came on May 27th when he out dueled future Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan.

Kobel developed arm trouble in 1975, pitching only four innings over the next three seasons, missing the entire '75 and 1977 campaigns. Uncertain that he could return to the majors, Milwaukee sold him to the New York Mets in December of 1977. Determination and hard work earned him a spot on the pitching staff and Kobel responded with an outstanding effort in 1978. In 32 games, he posted a 2.91 ERA with five victories.

He resumed a similar role with the Mets in 1979 but injuries pushed Kobel into New York's starting rotation. He had three starts go into the eighth inning without allowing a run, but only earned one victory. In June, he threw a three hit shutout against Atlanta, but was primarily a .500 pitcher the remainder of the way. His ledger at the end of the year was a 6-8 record with a 3.54 ERA.

Kobel pitched in the minor leagues through 1982 before retiring for good. In retirement, he moved to Arizona and became an active member of the Arizona Major League Alumni Association which travels the state giving lecture and instruction to Little League and high school players.

Why I love this card
Sunday, August 24, 1980. My grandpa had been sick for some time and died that day. I had just bought a pack at the 7-11 and was sitting on the curb with some buddies and this card was inside. My dad and uncle came around the corner in my dad's huge 1978 Buick and gave me the "better get home" look. There are a handful of cards from this pack that I associate with that day and Kobel is one. Sorry to be so morbid, but Kevin Kobel reminds me of Grandpa today.

Something else....
Nice to see a break from the head shots that have been on a roll lately, but Kobel looks like he is at a tennis court. And is that guy in the background with his back to the camera taking a leak? On the other hand, never mind.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

#188 Terry Crowley

Who is this player?
Terry Crowley, designated hitter, Baltimore Orioles
At this point in his career, Terry Crowley had already established that he was a major league hitter. The lefthanded batter earned a daily spot in the lineup in 1980 and was most often used as a DH, while also providing clutch pinch hits off the bench. His average hovered over .300 for most of the season and he had three hits in a game on six different occasions. He finished with a career high 12 home runs and 50 RBI but the Orioles failed to repeat as AL East champions despite winning 100 games.

Terry attended Long Island University, where he was named All-American and All-Met Conference in baseball. He attracted the attention of major league scouts and was selected by the Orioles in the 11th round of the 1966 draft and made his debut three years later. The following season, Crowley spent the entire season with the Orioles and appeared in the World Series as the Birds won their second championship in five seasons.

In 1973, Crowley became the Orioles first-ever designated hitter but at the end of the season he was sold to the Texas Rangers. He spent only one season in Arlington and was sold again, this time to the Cincinnati Reds. Crowley again had the opportunity to appear in the World Series in 1975, again finding himself on the winning side when the Reds captured the championship. He was on the move again though, being traded to the Braves in 1976, his third team in four years.

He only appeared in seven games for the Braves and returned to the Orioles where he spent 12 of his 15 major league campaigns. He and the Orioles returned to the World Series in 1979 and his pinch-hit double helped break open a Game 4 win for Baltimore and a 3-1 Series lead. Unfortunately, the Orioles lost the Series in seven games. Terry's final season was in 1983 as a member of the Montreal Expos. He retired with 108 career pinch hits, good for sixth on the all-time list (now 13th).

Upon his retirement, he immediately went into coaching, spending four years (1985-1988) with the Orioles as their hitting coach. He moved on to the Minnesota Twins in 1991 where he spent eight seasons as hitting coach including the 1991 World Championship season. He returned to the Orioles in 1999 and has since become a fixture in Baltimore. Crowley is signed to return to the Birds for his 12th consecutive season in 2010 surviving five different managers.

Why I love this card
One of the things I remember doing during the summer of 1980 was learning how to keep score. I would eventually do it to games on television and I can remember having these cards out during Tigers-Orioles games, trying to keep up. Crowley, John Lowenstein and Gary Roenicke always seemed to kill the Tigers and I always spelled their names wrong when the cards weren't there. Crowley was "Crowly" and this card helped me make sure I didn't repeat my mistake.

Something else.....
The entire time I watched "The Shield" I would think of this Crowley before that Crowley. However, no mention of Crowley would be complete without a "Manager's Corner" reference. I wonder what Alice Sweet is doing these days?

Saturday, November 7, 2009

#187 Alan Ashby

Who is this player?
Alan Ashby, catcher, Houston Astros
As the everyday receiver of the 1980 NL West champions, Alan Ashby was responsible for handling one of the best pitching staffs in the game. Although he often batted in the bottom third of the order, the switch-hitting Ashby was adept with the bat as well. With Houston fighting off the challenge of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Ashby batted .429 the final week of the season. Ashby was involved in a collision with Dodger Joe Ferguson that injured a rib and caused him to miss most of the NLCS against the Phillies. He had a clutch single in the deciding Game 5 to tie the game but Houston fell to Philly in ten innings.

A graduate of San Pedro High School in Los Angeles, Ashby was a high school teammate of Phillies' outfielder Garry Maddox. Ashby was originally a third round selection of the Cleveland Indians in the 1969 amateur draft. He received a September look in both 1973 and 1974, but essentially toiled in the bush leagues for six seasons. Alan made the Indians club in 1975 but was a reserve in Cleveland. He had the distinction of being the first ever player acquired via trade for the Toronto Blue Jays when he was traded from Cleveland to Toronto on November 5, 1976 in a package deal.

He was the first everyday catcher for the Blue Jays, appearing in 124 games. With the emergence of Rick Cerone and Ernie Whitt, Ashby was traded again, this time to the Houston Astros in 1979, where he gained his greatest fame. In addition to helping lead the Astros to their first playoff appearance, Ashby was also a key reason they returned to the playoffs in 1981. He won the opening game of the NLDS against the Dodgers with a home run, but again the Astros dropped the postseason series.

In 1982, Alan became the first Astro to ever homer from both sides of the plate in a September game against San Diego. Ashby tied an NL record by catching three no-hitters during his career, the third being Mike Scott's 1986 division title clincher. In the NLCS against the Mets, Ashby continued his timely post-season hitting, with another home run that won Game Four, tying the Series. Again though, the Astros lost the NLCS, this time in six games. Ashby played 11 years in Houston and became one of the teams' most recognizable faces. In 1989, Ashby was released by the Astros in May. Rather than go to the Pirates in a trade, he retired, ending his 17 year major league career.

Since his playing days, Ashby worked as a sports anchor in the Houston market, managed for several years in the minor leagues and even served a stint as Astros bench coach. At closing ceremonies for the Astrodome, he was named the club's greatest catcher. He became the Astros radio voice in 1998, a position he held for eight seasons. Today, he is on the radio with another one of his old teams, the Toronto Blue Jays.

Why I love this card
I have to imagine that Topps purposely didn't center this photo of Ashby. Somehow, I think if they did, this card wouldn't be so memorable for me. There seems to be perfect symmetry between the photo and Ashby's signature. I still think of this card as as reference point when I see Ashby's name somewhere.

Something else....
Ashby and Astro teammate Phil Garner did a Burger King commercial sometime in the early 1980s. Everything about this screams 1980s Here's a still:
You can watch the entire commercial here.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Seventh 25 - A Roster

A brief look back in team form at the last 25 player cards in the 1980 set (#162 through #186) as if constructing a fantasy league team.

Manager - No Card

1B - Warren Cromartie
2B - Fernando Gonzalez
SS - Luis Gomez
3B - Ray Knight
OF - Champ Summers
OF - Omar Moreno
OF - Jack Clark
C - Ron Hodges/Steve Swisher
DH - Hal McRae

Overall, an intriguing lineup. Moreno is a flyer at the top of the order that played in 162 games in 1980. He is followed by a solid group in the middle of the order (Cromartie-McRae-Clark-Knight-Summers). The remainder of the order is filled with interchangeable parts at the second base, shortstop and catching positions. I wouldn't call this lineup Punch-N-Judy but it is similar to a mid-1980s Cardinals team.

Bench: Junior Moore, Jim Anderson, Tim McCarver, Ken Reitz, Greg Pryor, Bob Randall

An unspectacular bunch with no outfield depth. Randall could possibly start over Gonzalez, both there's nothing substantially gained. McCarver is all but done and would only pinch-hit. Reitz would like start on most teams, here he is a defensive replacement because Knight's bat needs to be in the lineup.

Rick Reuschel
Moose Haas
Burt Hooton
Rick Waits
Steve Renko

A nice rotation here, not flashy but productive. You won't find Cy Young winners here, but there a group of durable arms that can hold up over a long season. This group would eat a lot of innings, which is needed due to a shortage in the bullpen.

Ron Davis, Dave Heaverlo, John Henry Johnson, Glenn Abbott

A little thin, with Davis emerging as the closer. Heaverlo, Johnson and Abbott all have experience coming out the bullpen either in short relief or as a swingman. Like the starters, not a flashy group but serviceable major league pitchers.

OVERALL: Not as good as this time around. There are no Hall of Famers in this group and Knight is the only 1980 All-Star. There are concerns at three positions up the middle as all the players are very light hitters. There are also serious depth issues in the outfield and the bullpen. Of all the teams put together so far, this would be one that would definately struggle.


Thursday, November 5, 2009

#186 Junior Moore

Who is this player?
Junior Moore, utility player, Chicago White Sox
On the final day of Spring Training in 1980, Junior Moore failed to make the Chicago White Sox roster and was optioned to Triple-A Iowa to begin the season. After a month, he was back in Chicago and given an opportunity to win the third base position. He performed well in his brief trial, batting .256 but was another victim of a numbers game in the White Sox infield and was again sent to the minors. He received another recall in September but played in only four games. 1980 would be the final season of his five year career.

Born Alvin Earl Moore, the righthanded hitting Junior was originally drafted by the Atlanta Braves in 1971. He began in the Braves chain as an outfielder but was eventually converted to an infielder as a faster path to the majors. A line drive hitter with good speed, Moore hit .300 in four of six minor league seasons and was a multiple-time minor league All-Star. He made his major league debut in 1976 when he was given a brief September look.

The following season, he earned the Braves starting third base job and he batted .260 with 5 home runs and 34 RBI. After his rookie year, a unique clause in his contract allowed him to leave the Braves and he signed on with the Chicago White Sox in November of 1977.

With the White Sox, he spent the next three years primarily as a utility player, appearing at six different positions. Moore was also a very popular player and manager in the Mexican minor leagues after completing his big league career. He later coached later coached college baseball at both Patten University in Oakland and Bethany College in Scotts Valley, California.

Why I love this card
I always liked the way that Moore signed "Jr." instead of the full "Junior." Looking at this card today, the look on Junior's face suggests that he knows his playing days are coming to an end. You don't often see a worried look on a major leaguer's baseball card, but I see it here.

Something else...
Moore was a client of Abdul-Jalil and Superstar Management, who negotiated his contract with Ted Turner with the Braves. His website is here, and you can read more about Junior's contract about halfway down the page.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

#185 Hal McRae

Who is this player?
Hal McRae, Designated Hitter, Kansas City Royals
As one of the first players to make a career as a designated hitter, Hal McRae was a significant part of the attack of the AL Champion Royals in 1980. Typically the team's cleanup hitter, he tore a calf muscle early in the season and missed most of May. He rebounded to hit .297 with 83 RBI, a highlight being a five-hit game in August. He batted .375 in the World Series against the Phillies, but the Royals fell to Philadelphia in six games. At the end of the season, Hal was recognized as Designated Hitter of the Year.

The first major leaguer to hail from Florida A&M, McRae was a sixth round selection of the Cincinnati Reds in 1965. While McRae always showed an ability to hit, a broken leg in 1969 limited his fielding abilities and prevented him from becoming a full-time player. Nevertheless, Hal made his debut with the Reds in 1968 and twice played in the World Series with the Big Red Machine. In the break that would define his career, McRae was traded to the Royals in December, 1972.

McRae struggled in his first season in Kansas City, but rebounded to hit .316 over the next three seasons (1974-1976) and the Royals won the AL West for the first time. Hal was an MVP candidate and recognized as an All-Star in 1975 and 1976. He was among the leaders in batting and finished second in a close race with teammate George Brett in 1976. In an ugly incident, McRae charged racism when Brett narrowly edged out McRae on the final day.

He developed a well-earned reputation as a hard-nosed, intense player that came to signify the Royals of that era. Still among the franchise leaders in many offensive categories, McRae twice led the league in doubles and was the AL RBI champion in 1982. The Royals qualified for the postseason in 1981, 1984 and in 1985 the team won their first World Championship. McRae played in nine post-season series with the Royals and was a .294 hitter in the playoffs. His last season was 1987 after 19 seasons in the major leagues.

Following his playing retirement, McRae managed the Royals (1991–94) and Tampa Bay Devil Rays (2001–02). He also served as hitting coach for the Cinncinnati Reds, Philadelphia Phillies, and St. Louis Cardinals. Recently, McRae was in the news as he was fired as Cardinals hitting coach and replaced by Mark McGwire.

Why I love this card
The older kids in the neighborhood could always get the little kids to believe anything based solely on the fact that they were older. In 1980, I was on the receiving end of this spectrum and Hal McRae reminds me of this. While I am not certain of McRae's ancestry, the older kids had me convinced that he was of Irish decent because "anyone with 'Mc' in front of their name" is "definately" Irish. I think that my parents let me figure that one out for myself.

Something else....
No matter what, whenever I think of Hal McRae, I will always think of this. If it's not the best tirade ever, I would like to see the one that is.