Tuesday, January 29, 2013

1980 Indianapolis Indians Baseball #5, Joe Price

This 1980 entry caps Indy's vintage teams sets, nice full-color cards from a time when many minor league teams couldn't afford better than black-and-white. They measure slightly bigger than standard Topps, frustrating collectors who want to put everything in 9-count sheets, but satisfy the artistic spirit of making a better card.

Joe Price moved to the bigs in 1981 and played during my sweet spot as a collector, so I remember several of his cards, including this close look at Cincy's home uniform.

1985 Topps profiled #82 Joe Price in 2012, highlighting his high socks and even higher leg kick.

Advice to young players: "Perserverence." Advice to card editors: spelling (perseverance).

TRIVIA UPDATE: Joe Price started 84 games and finished 84 games, MLB's all-time leader in appearances (372) with equal "starts and finishes."

This 32-card set's a mix of group photos and individual shots, similar to Indy's previous efforts (Indianapolis set profiles).
  1. Team Picture
  2. Jim Beauchamp, Manager
  3. Sheldon Burnside
  4. Mike Grace
  5. Joe Price
  6. John Hale
  7. Geoff Combe
  8. Dave Van Gorder
  9. Bruce Berenyi
  10. Eddie Milner
  11. Jay Howell
  12. Paul O'Neill (minor leaguer, not future CIN/NYY star Paul O'Neill)
  13. The Braintrust
  14. Larry Rothschild
  15. Paul Householder
  16. The Relievers
  17. Scott Brown
  18. Mark Miller
  19. The Starters
  20. Blake Doyle
  21. Gene Menees
  22. Rafael Santo Domingo
  23. Bill Kelly
  24. Don Lyle
  25. Bill Dawley
  26. Duane Walker
  27. Angel Torres
  28. The Catchers
  29. The Infielders
  30. The Outfielders
  31. John Young, Trainer
  32. Checklist

As with many AAA teams, a bunch of included players (in bold) reached the bigs, either before or after their appearance in this Indians set.

Value: This #5 cost $2 at MinorLeagueSingles.com. Can't find a team set for sale right now, but assume they'd be $20-30.

Fakes / reprints: Haven't seen any in the marketplace.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

1979 Indianapolis Indians Baseball #5, Harry Spilman

Fans of baseball history would cover more than just 568 miles with a summer drive from Rochester (NY) to Indianapolis. Rochester's Red Wings (b. 1899) and the Indianapolis Indians (b. 1902) are MiLB's oldest continuously operating franchises, with modern stadiums and big-league affiliations expected to keep both streaks intact into the foreseeable future.

Indy's the AAA affiliate for Pittsburgh today, but fielded future Reds in 1979. My strongest collector memory of Harry Spilman is 1981 Topps #94, complete with first base glove, the same position I played in little league.

Spilman's positional versatility (1B, 3B, C) and lefty hitting helped keep him in the bigs for more than a decade, sharing plate appearances as a starter (446) and pinch-hitter (460) equally (career splits). While not a protypical power guy, Harry slugged almost 100 points higher with runners in scoring position, something managers remember, even if anecdotally.

Harry's hobbies are hunting and chewing? First time I've seen chewing described as a "hobby," but that's one prominent wad in Spilman's cheek.

INDIANS INQUIRY answer: Indy's home (Bush Stadium) opened as Perry Stadium (1931), later took the WWII-style name Victory Field (1942), and finally renamed to honor player-exec Donie Bush (1967). (Further trivia: Movie crews took advantage of Bush's old-school look to stand in for both World Series stadiums in Eight Men Out.)

Today, Indy plays in a modern Victory Field and--according to Wikipedia--multiple sources consider it the minors' best place to catch game.

The 32-card Indy checklist includes individual players and several group shots. Most pictured reached the majors, including Mr. Spilman. The best-known might be Mario Soto and Jay Howell.

INDIANS INQUIRY questions sound pretty esoteric today. Card #16 asked, "who's the only player on the 1974 Indians not to play in the majors and what's he doing now?" (Gene Dusan, former catcher and 9-year manager in the minors.)

("Eddie Dick, Groundskeeper." Hee hee.)

Value: CheckOutMyCards asks $4.25 for this #5. It's the only single listing I've seen, so might be worth it. As of writing, you can get the whole set on eBay for $25.

Fakes / reprints: Haven't seen any in the marketplace.

Monday, January 21, 2013

1977 Indianapolis Indians Baseball #5, Tom Hume

Few of my minor league type cards portray guys with a future, so it's nice to run into future All-Stars like righty Tom Hume. He and those mid-70s shades are framed by Indy's home park, Owen Bush Stadium, their home from 1931-1995.

As a collector, I know the Indianpolis Indians for their full-color, self-produced team sets in a minor league era more likely to produce dingy black-and-white. Dodgy, shadowed photos still show up (e.g., Mike LaCoss), but you saw those every year from Topps itself.

1977 is the last of Hume's minor league cards, as Cincy's late-year promotion stuck and he spent the next 11 years scuffing big league baseballs for the Reds and Phillies. Tom joins 9-year vet Steve McCatty as the most successful rookies from 1978 Topps #701.

Hume posted 140+ innings each minor league season, as the Reds seemed keen on making Tom a starter. They ultimately shifted him to the bullpen, where he finished 30+ games five straight years (1979-1983) and saved the NL's 4-1 win in 1982's All-Star game (career stats).

I remember pre-1980 cards tracking more personal info on card backs, like hobbies and a favorite winter activity. Today, Tom's on Twitter @THume47. Judging by those tweets, he still likes to fish.

Indianapolis printed 26 cards and this unnumbered checklist in 1977, with team staff on the back.

Value: This #5 cost $2.50 at MinorLeagueSingles.com. Several of Tom's teammates joined him in the bigs, so you'll pay more than for a single-A team without any familiar names. (As of this writing, there's a set on eBay for $35.)

Fakes / reprints: Haven't seen any in the marketplace.

Friday, January 18, 2013

1980 TCMA Columbus Clippers Baseball #5, Garry Smith

Hey, another oddball minor league photo in a long line of them. Convincing 6'2" guys to bend double is the textbook look for "gangly." Did the photographer really catch Columbus outfielders during grounder practice?

Columbus looks like a Cubs affiliate with those hats and pinstripes, but were the Yankees AAA farm club for almost 3 decades, 1979-2006. Garry Smith bounced around New York's system for seven years, suiting up for as many as three teams annually (career stats).

Garry's frequent A-AA-AAA movement reminded me of another peripatetic player (recently mentioned by an OBC trading friend), Wally Wolf.

Wally got the Rookie Stars treatment twice, but seven years apart, the longest such gap I've seen.

Why, Wally hasn't aged a day! Oh, they just airbrushed his Colt .45s cap. (Read the Hope Springs Eternal posts at 1207 Consecutive Games for more of Topps "rookie mistakes" from the 60s and 70s.)

Unlike Garry Smith, Wolf got two cups of coffee in the majors, but his minor league travels look very similar.

This TCMA set's rich with future Yankees and past big-leaguers as coaches.
  1. Tim Lollar
  2. Roger Slagle
  3. Chris Welsh
  4. Wayne Harer
  5. Garry Smith
  6. Brad Gulden
  7. Roger Holt
  8. Joe Altobelli MG
  9. Roy Staiger
  10. Bob Kammeyer
  11. Jim McDonald
  12. Jim Nettles
  13. Brian Doyle
  14. Sammy Ellis CO
  15. Bruce Robinson
  16. Jim Lewis
  17. Dave Righetti
  18. Mark Letendre
  19. Dave Coleman
  20. Marshall Brant
  21. Greg Cochran
  22. Jerry McNertney CO
  23. Dennis Sherrill
  24. Marv Thompson
  25. Dave Wehrmeister
  26. Joe Lefebvre
  27. George Sisler Jr. GM
  28. Juan Espino

Value: This #5 cost $2 as part of my TCMA haul from MinorLeagueSingles.com. Some sellers ask as much as $50 for the team, but $20 seems more reasonable to me. (A team set with 5 autographs recently sold on eBay for $15 with shipping.)

Fakes / reprints: TCMA reprinted several 1980 teams for "collectors kits" in the late 1980s. Those reprints use black ink; originals have blue backs.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

1980 Chong Enterprises Modesto A's Baseball #5, Gordon Eakin

Gordon Eakin played three seasons with single-A Modesto, leaving the pro ranks in 1981 at just 23 (career stats). Based on books about playing in the minors, many at that age decide either their heart isn't into the travel demands (and lousy pay) or get the message there's no promotion coming to higher levels.

Instead of disappearing into a sales office or construction site, Eakin switched to elite softball after Modesto, building a long career as player, hitting instructor, and coach. 2012 marked his tenth year helming the program at BYU; here's Gordon today.

Modesto-based Frank Chong first printed sets for Oakland's single-A team in 1977 and continued annually into the 1990s, switching to "Chong Enterprises" by 1980. Modesto's biggest names from that era include Rickey Henderson (1977), Jose Canseco (1984), and Mark McGwire (1985); Rickey's rookie is one of the toughest on my #5 type want list.

This is of the few times last name, first name appears on a card back and I didn't see it on other Chong Modesto sets, so might've been an editing error (or "choice"). 29 players comprise the checklist.
  1. Don Schubert
  2. Steve Gelfarb
  3. Mike Woodard
  4. Paul Stockley
  5. Gordon Eakin
  6. Kevin Jacobson
  7. Al Armstead
  8. Jim Bennett
  9. Lynn Garrett
  10. Bob Garrett
  11. Rich Hatcher
  12. Jim Durman
  13. Frank Knauser
  14. Frank Kolarek
  15. John Gosse
  16. Ron Mantsch
  17. Rick Holloway
  18. Ken Corzel
  19. Don Van Marter
  20. Chuck Dougherty
  21. Tom Brunswick
  22. Ed Retzer
  23. Mark Ferguson
  24. Roy Moretti
  25. Keith Call
  26. Bob Wood
  27. Keith Lieppman
  28. Brad Fisher
  29. Dan Kiser

Value: This #5 cost $2 at MinorLeagueSingles.com. Team sets vary in value by number available and included stars. Clyde's Stale Cards quotes the 1985 print run at just 1700, which means a lot of competition with player collectors for very few cards. (1980 only has one future big leaguer, Mike Woodward, so runs cheaper than most.)

Fakes / reprints: Consider stars like Henderson, Canseco, and McGwire at high risk for reprinting and stick to lesser-known players if you're looking for a type card. (Chong himself reprinted those and other stars for a 1989 "Modesto alumni" set.)

Sunday, January 13, 2013

1980 TCMA Lynn Sailors Baseball #5, Chuck Lindsay

"How should I pose?"

"Pick up a bat, any bat."

"Then what, put it on my shoulder?"

"Hold it up and smirk like you're about to bunt an underhand pitch from a circus clown."

"...OK, you're the guy with the camera."

Lynn's Sailors started as a Seattle AA affiliate and fielded (among others) future Mariner and Red Sox shortstop Spike Owen. They folded after 1983, but pro ball returned to Lynn twice in the 3 decades since. I attended a handful of (independent) North Shore Spirit games during their 2003-07 run and remember Dick "The Monster" Radatz occupying a hefty percentage of their bullpen.

Many Massachusetts residents know Lynn for this bit of doggerel (and variations on it).
"Lynn, Lynn the city of sin
You never come out, the way you came in
You ask for water, but they give you gin
The girls say no, yet they always give in
If you're not bad, they won’t let you in
It’s the damnedest city I’ve ever lived in
Lynn, Lynn the city of sin
You never come out, the way you came in."

This exaggerates what you'll find in Lynn. No one gives away gin for free.

Lindsay didn't break past AA, probably for lack of power (1 minor league homer), and hung up his spikes after 1980.

TCMA printed 23 cards for this set. (A few names look familiar because they went on to play for Seattle in the early 1980s.)
  16. TOM HUNT
  19. R. J. HARRISON

Value: This #5 cost $2 from MinorLeagueSingles.com. Teams run as low as $6 on eBay, as none of its players developed into MLB stars.

Fakes / reprints: TCMA reprinted several team sets for "collectors kits" later in the 1980s. Those card backs use black ink and originals use blue.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

1916 D329 Weil Baking Co. Baseball #5, Leon "Red" Ames

What pre-war collectors know as "Weil Baking" is one of many back variations on Felix Mendelssohn's own 200-player, black-and-white set printed a century ago. I looked at some of its origin and checklist for a M101-4 set profile and OldCardboard tracks all known backs in a gallery, both of which bedevil completist collectors. A "master set" of cards derived from the original totals well over 1000, with some extremely expensive players and hard-to-find backs.

That might be Ames demonstrating his overhand curve, a pitch so hard to hit and catch that Red still holds the MLB record with 30 wild pitches in 1905, the same year he set a career-high with 22 wins. (The Sporting News could've picked a more recent photo than this Giants uniform, as Ames was three years removed from New York by 1916.)

As the card back implies, people used "Hall of Fame" colloquially for decades prior to Cooperstown's opening in 1939 and then, as now, who "belonged" in baseball's HOF included a measure of subjectivity. Red won 183 games and one World Series (also 1905) over a 17-year MLB career (career stats), short of Cooperstown quality today. Contemporary fans and writers considered him good, if unlucky in close games.

Value: This Weil Baking #5 sold for $167 as part of a 5-card lot in late 2012.

Fakes / reprints: Reprints from Mendelssohn-derived sets abound in the market, especially superstars like Joe Jackson and Babe Ruth. Fakes prove hard to distinguish for modern collectors; look for white stock that's slightly thinner than modern cards with a yellowy gloss on the front. When in doubt, buy from dealers who specialize in pre-war and don't spend a bundle just for a type card.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Top 5 Seasons To Forget, Baserunning Edition

Happy 2013 to all and welcome back to my off-season look at less-than-awesome years on the diamond. A personal caution that this Top 5 Seasons To Forget for stealing (and getting caught) took extra sifting compared to earlier stabs at hitting, pitching, and managing, as that august trio seems somehow more elemental to the game. Sure, footwork's a nice bonus skill for the multi-tool player, but occasional extra bases play subordinate to baseball's 21st-century focus on the Three True Outcomes.

Furthermore, bad running doesn't stand out on card backs like a 4-16 pitcher or .180 hitter. Someone who leads the league in caught stealing (CS) might also lead it in stolen bases (SB), given the quantity of attempts, and be hailed as the team's rally starter. That pushed my version of "forgettable season" into more esoteric terrain, where the most chiding that player might receive is his appearance in this post.

1. Jose Offerman (2000, 0 SB, 8 CS)

2002 Topps #624, Jose Offerman

See Jose. See Jose run. See Jose get caught running. See Jose try again. And again. And again. That 2000 season set the mark for most caught stealing without a success at 8. (To his credit, Jose swiped as many as 45 in other years.)

2. Luis Castillo, 2000 (22 CS, 17 RBI)

1996 Bowman #189, Luis Castillo

The same year Jose kept getting nabbed in the AL, Castillo led the NL in both stolen bases and caught stealing. As noted above, those stats can be a speedster's lot in life. However, Luis also notched the rarer feat of getting caught 5 more times than he knocked in runs.

That odd combo says a lot about Florida's ability to put guys on base in front of Luis, who hit .334 and set an OPS+ career high (111). Their 7-8-9 hitters must've been uncommonly awful at getting into scoring position (2000 team stats).

3. Vince Coleman ("for career achievements")

1986 Topps #201, Vince Coleman (Most SB by Rookie)

Vince's most regrettable moment will forever be tossing fireworks into a crowd of autograph seekers at Dodger Stadium, but his speed in St. Louis outpaced just about everything from 1985 to 1990. Coleman's career steals (752) are more than twice his career RBI (346). He stole more bases than runs scored 4 times, more bases than his OPS+ rating 3 times, and more bases than his stolen base percentage 3 times. I bestow one career No-Prize for those steals overshadowing, well, everything.

Still a dick move throwing the fireworks, Vince.

4. Matt Alexander (103 SB, 1 Run Created)

1978 Topps #102, Matt Alexander

Matt "Two First Names" Alexander holds the ignominious career accomplishment of stealing 103 career bases, but creating just a single run during his 9 MLB seasons. Bill James developed Runs Created to evaluate a player's combined batting and running contributions. Per Wikipedia:
"Runs created is believed to be an accurate measure of an individual's offensive contribution because when used on whole teams, the formula normally closely approximates how many runs the team actually scores."

How just 1 RC in 9 seasons? The fact that fellow Oakland alum Larry Lintz is "runner-up" with 128 steals and 31 Runs Created hints that their shared time as Athletics had something to do with it. Those mid-70s World Series championships featured not just the AL's new Designated Hitter (1973), but also experiments with sprinter Herb Washington and other situational speedsters like Lintz and Alexander.

Alexander's career stats border on the bizarre, with just 4 RBI in 374 games and an otherworldly 1.5:1 AB-to-Runs ratio. (Matt's batting nadir came in 1976 with a -80 OPS+, thanks to 1 hit in 30 at-bats, offsetting 20 steals as a pinch-runner.) Oakland's dedication to pinch-running might push Runs Created to the edge of utility for individuals, while remaining accurate for the team as a whole.

Don't cry for me, Herb Washington: Like Herb (Oakland, 1974), Matt Alexander's running skills earned him a World Series ring (Pittsburgh, 1979).

5. Most caught stealing in consecutive games (5 CS, 5 times)

1993 Topps #680, Craig Biggio

I admit we're pushing the bounds of #5-philia with this one: 5 players have been caught stealing 5 times in consecutive games. At least this list spans multiple eras and includes a future Hall-of-Famer in Biggio.

Eddie Mulligan is this group's odd duck, a poor hitter who filled a lineup spot for Chicago's post-Black Sox White Sox (1921-22). He lead the AL with 18 caught stealing in 1921, thanks in part to just three days in July (one of which had a doubleheader, so four games total). 7 hits in 18 at-bats looks good until you're thrown out 5 of those times on base and getting caught twice in a 1-0 loss must've stung.

Honorable Mention: Fred Merkle (New York Giants, 1908)

1909-11 T206, Fred Merkle

Merkle's boner remains one of the most notorious running blunders, due as much to Chicago's strategic use of the run-canceling force rule as to Merkle's "censurable stupidity" (to quote the New York Times). His out did mean the Giants had to replay (and lose) their 1908 pennant-winning game, but it's hard to contextualize that moment for the modern game. Tossing a live baseball to a fan, perhaps.

Any other stolen seasons or running gaffes you'd like to forget?