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#99 Al Stanek

11/25/2011

Al Stanek appears in the Topps set in three consecutive years. But he didn’t play in the Majors in any of the three seasons he’s depicted. This is his rookie card, which follows the only year in which he actually played Major League baseball.

First things first. The trivia question on the back asks how many bases Ty Cobb stole in his career. The answer is 897. Cobb retired with a bunch of MLB records, but he came up 17 stolen bases short of Billy Hamilton’s mark of 914. Hamilton’s record stood until 1978, when Lou Brock passed him. Rickey Henderson, of course, eclipsed Brock in 1991.

As a 19-year-old in 1963, Al Stanek earned a spot in the Giants bullpen and pitched 13.1 innings over 11 outings. He never appeared in a Major League uniform again. Still, Topps decided to feature him in the 1964, 1965 and 1966 sets, probably because they assumed a guy who had big league experience at age 19 would somehow get back. He didn’t, and because of that, Topps had to use what appears to be a slightly-different picture from his 1964 photoshoot for 1966:

Of the 11 games Stanek pitched in, the Giants lost 10. His appearances spanned from April 26 to September 27, and he was never sent down to the minors at any point. Which means there must’ve been a lot of boring days for Al Stanek. Four times, he went at least three weeks between outings. He never got a decision or a save. The only home run he allowed was to Hank Aaron.

In 1964, Stanek had a really good year in AAA for Tacoma, posting a 2.83 ERA and striking out 220 hitters in 223 innings. But, according to this very informative article from earlier this year, Stanek suffered a shoulder injury in Army basic training in 1965 and was never the same. He was demoted to AA in 1966, and although his ERA was good in 1967 (2.94), he walked 36 and struck out only 24 in 52 innings. That was it for Stanek’s pro career.

Stanek did return to play for a semi-pro team in his hometown of Chicopee, Mass. He also managed that team. According to the news story linked above, Stanek worked for Hamilton Standard for more than 40 years and now enjoys watching his grandsons play baseball. He’s 67 years old.

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