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#146 Indians Rookie Stars (Tommy John/Bob Chance)

01/28/2013

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More than just a surgery, Tommy John is depicted here on his rookie card alongside 1B/OF Bob Chance, who played 20 fewer seasons and actually had fewer plate appearances as a hitter than John.

This is probably one of the worst cards I have, condition-wise. But it was dirt cheap so I picked it up a couple years ago.

Much is written about Tommy John (so I’ll focus here on 1964 instead of his full career), who pitched for 26 years and was rejuvenated after undergoing the elbow ligament-replacement procedure that came to bear his name. To put John’s longevity in perspective, he was an active player until 1989. No other player depicted in the 1964 set was still playing that recently (he outlasted Pete Rose by three seasons). John reportedly decided to hang it up at age 46 when he gave up a home run to Mark McGwire, whose dad was his dentist.

This card is the only one to portray John in Indians gear. He came up late in the 1963 season as a 20-year-old and pitched pretty well in 20 2/3 innings, and that earned him a spot in the Cleveland rotation in 1964.

The 1964 season started out great for John, who threw a complete-game, three-hit shutout against the Orioles in his first start of the season. Things went south from there, and he only lasted 1/3 of an inning the next time out. He didn’t pitch all that poorly after that, allowing three or fewer earned runs in six consecutive starts from June 3 – July 1. Unfortunately, he lost all six starts (the Indians offense was a bit anemic). After an awful start against Kansas City on July 16 (which, ironically, earned him a no decision), the Indians sent John to the Portland Beavers in the PCL. He returned to work out of the bullpen for the last two weeks of the season, and never pitched for Cleveland again. He finished with a 2-9 record and 3.91 ERA (93 ERA+) in 1964. He wouldn’t post an ERA+ of under 100 in a season again until 1983, when he was 40.

In the offseason, the Indians shipped John and others to the White Sox in a three-team deal that brought Rocky Colavito back to Cleveland from Kansas City. Colavito had two more good seasons with the Indians before fading into oblivion, while John put up seven solid seasons in Chicago before being traded to the Dodgers.

John is currently 69 years old.

Like John, Bob Chance was a call-up late in the 1963 season. Chance was awesome in the AA Eastern League that season, winning the triple crown with a .343 average, 26 HR and 114 RBI. He looked like a future star, and had a promising rookie season with the Indians in 1964, delivering a .279/.346/.433 line as a 23-year-old in 439 PA with 14 homers and 75 RBI, while playing mostly first base. The big rookie year earned him a Topps All-Star Rookie trophy on his 1965 card.

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#201 Orioles Rookie Stars (Sam Bowens/Wally Bunker)

01/27/2013

201 Orioles Rookies201 Orioles Rookies back

 

Both guys on this card had outstanding rookie seasons in 1964, then somewhat fell off the map in subsequent years.

The descent was worse for Bowens, who was the starting right fielder for an O’s team that won 97 games in ’64. He finished third on the team (behind Boog Powell and Brooks Robinson) with 22 home runs and 71 RBI, and posted a decent .263/.323/.453 line in 553 plate appearances.

That was basically it for Bowens, who basically became unable to hit over the last five seasons of his career. As a part-time player from 1965-69, he batted an awful .188 over 814 plate appearances, with only 22 homers and 20 doubles over that span. He was noted for his defense, and he earned a World Series ring for Baltimore in 1966 despite not playing in the Series.

The Orioles finally had enough after the 1967 season and sold him to the Washington Senators, for whom he toiled in misery for two more seasons. He played in minor league ball in the Braves and Pirates’ systems in 1970, but called it quits when he never got called back up the big leagues.

Bowens died at age 65 in 2003.

Wally Bunker had a much better career than Bowens, but his standout season also came in 1964. As a 19-year-old, Bunker went 19-5 with a 2.69 ERA (a 134 ERA+). He threw two one-hitters before the All-Star break and became an instant sensation in Baltimore, where the mound became known as “Bunker Hill” when he started.

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#302 Dan Pfister

01/27/2012

Before there was Doug Fister, there was Dan Pfister. This is the third and final Topps card featuring Pfister, who last played in the Major Leagues in 1964. His 1962 rookie card was a five-player combo card also featuring Jim Bouton.

Like the cards for several other A’s in the ’64 set, the photo used here was actually taken in 1962. Kansas City ditched the red/blue color scheme after the ’62 season and went to the familiar green/yellow combination that we associate with the A’s today. In fact, this card just reuses the photo from his 1963 Topps card.

The question on the back asks “what was the biggest score of a ballgame?” The answer is the same now as it was in 1964: on August 25, 1922, the Cubs beat the Phillies 26-23 in the highest-scoring game ever. The most a single team has scored in the World Series era is 30, which the Rangers put up August 22, 2007 against Baltimore (the final was 30-3). That game is also notable in that Texas pitcher Wes Littleton earned a save for pitching the last three innings in a game his team won by 27 runs (although it was “only” 14-3 when he entered the game).

Dan Pfister pitched in parts of four seasons with the A’s, and the vast majority of his 249.1 career innings came in 1962, when he started 25 games and went 4-14 with a 4.54 ERA, 1.431 WHIP, OK enough 8.0 H/9 and icky 1.16 K/BB ratio. In his first career start, he threw a complete game three-hitter but lost 1-0 to Detroit.

He worked his way through the KC system, starting in 1957. He didn’t pitch particularly well at any level and was hideous in AA in 1961, but since the A’s were terrible he got a cup of coffee with the team that season in September.

After a full season in ’62, he made only three appearances in 1963 before being shut down for the season (presumably due to injury but I have no confirmation as to why he didn’t pitch after April 27).

He returned in 1964 as a reliever and spot starter, but after posting a 6.53 ERA in 41.1 IP with 29 walks, 21 strikeouts and 10 homers allowed, he was done as a big leaguer as of July 31. He went to AAA and pitched fairly well, but by 1965 was demoted to AA. Pfister was out of pro ball at age 28.

After retiring, he became a firefighter in Hollywood, Florida, and also turned into an avid softball player. In 1994, he went with an over-55 softball team to a world series in Las Vegas.

Pfister is currently 75 years old.

#200 Sandy Koufax

12/01/2011

From the scan, this card looks pretty good. But it is creased right through the upper half of Koufax’s face, which knocked it down into a good price range for me to pick up a couple of years ago.

The trivia question asks “who holds the lifetime mark for times at bat?” Now, I’m not sure if Topps meant plate appearances or at bats, but the answer in 1964 would’ve been the same: Ty Cobb. In terms of at bats, Cobb broke Honus Wagner’s record in 1926 and finished with 11,434. He held the record until 1974, when he was passed by Hank Aaron. Pete Rose passed Aaron in 1982 and still holds the record at 14,053. The story is much the same in plate appearances. Cobb clipped Wagner’s mark in late 1925, and he again held the record until 1974 at 13,068. Again, Aaron took over the record in 1974 and held it until Rose broke it in 1982. Rose still holds the record at 15,861.

There’s not much that can be said about Sandy Koufax that hasn’t been said elsewhere. Koufax is of course considered one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history despite a general lack of longevity. But until 1963, his numbers were not spectacular, largely due to a lack of control. His stat line from 1955 through 1962 looks like this:

68W, 60L, 3.71 ERA, 110 ERA+, 1.31 WHIP, 7.4 H/9, 4.4 BB/9, 9.3 K/9, 1.0 HR/9

Now, these aren’t terrible numbers, but it doesn’t look like he’s headed for a HOF career at this point, although the strikeout rate and hit rates are nice. 1962 is really where things started to turn around for him, when he got the walk rate down to 2.8 and had a career-high K rate of 10.5. He also led the NL in ERA at 2.54, despite having to miss some starts due to a hand injury. This was to some degree affected by the Dodgers moving from the L.A. Coliseum to Dodger Stadium, a move that greatly favored pitchers in general.

In 1963, Koufax began what is likely the most dominant four-year stretch by a modern pitcher. The numbers from those years (the last four of his career):

97 W, 27 L, 1.86 ERA, 172 ERA+, 0.91 WHIP, 6.2 H/9, 2.0 BB/9, 9.3 K/9, 0.6 HR/9

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#379 Tony Gonzalez

11/26/2011

This is, without a doubt, the worst card I have in the set, condition-wise. It’s literally being held together with a piece of tape, and the tape appears to be about as old as the card itself.

As I have learned as I continue this project, Topps had no problem with reusing photos for cards in the 1960s. Gonzalez’s photo on this card is just a zoomed-in version of the one that appeared on his 1963 card:

A Cuban native, Gonzalez played 12 seasons in the Majors from 1960-71, and actually had some really good years with the Phillies. He was signed by the Reds in 1957 when they had their AAA franchise in Havana (the Sugar Kings were in the International League from 1954 until 1960, when Fidel Castro nationalized all U.S. enterprises, forcing the team to move to New Jersey) and made his debut with Cincinnati in 1960. Midway through the season, he and Lee Walls were shipped to the Phillies in a deal that brought Wally Post and Harry Anderson to the Reds.

Gonzalez was a mainstay in the Phillies outfield for the next eight seasons, and he was an above-average hitter in each season, hitting OPS+ marks of 134 in 1962, 133 in 1963 and 147 in 1967. For his Phillies career, he hit .295/.359/433 with 77 home runs.

Power-wise, he peaked in 1962, hitting 20 homers and posting a .302/.371/.494 line in 490 PA. The following year, his homer ouptut dove to 4, but he set career highs with 36 doubles and 12 triples to go with a .306 average.

He garnered some attention in 1964, when he became one of the first (if not the first) player to wear a helmet with a protective ear flap, as shown in this photo.

Gonzalez had an outstanding season in 1967, finishing second in the batting race to Robert Clemente with a .339 average. His 5.6 WAR ranked him ninth among NL position players, but didn’t garner a spot on the All-Star team. He was remarkably consistent: after May 22, his average never dipped below .310 for the rest of the season and peaked at .343.

After his worst year with the Phillies in 1968, the team left him unprotected for baseball’s expansion draft and replaced him in 1969 with young Larry Hisle. The Padres took Gonzalez with the 37th pick in the NL draft, which stocked San Diego and Montreal.

Gonzalez started in center field in the first-ever Padres game, a 2-1 win over Houston. He hit well early in the season, but fell into a slump in May and never dug himself out. After a 3-for-36 stretch that pushed into June, the Padres traded him to Atlanta for three guys who never amounted to anything.

He regained some magic with the Braves, hitting .294/.354/.447 with 10 homers and 50 RBI in 89 games. He followed that season with his only postseason appearance, going 5-for-14 with a homer off Tom Seaver in the Mets’ three-game sweep of Atlanta in the first NLCS.

He spent another season in Atlanta before finishing his career with the Angels in 1971. Gonzalez played in Japan in 1972, and gave it one more chance in the states in 1973, getting 29 AB for the Phillies’ AA affiliate in Reading before hanging it up for good.

Gonzalez is currently 75 years old.

#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.

#368 White Sox Rookies (Fritz Ackley/Don Buford)

11/22/2011

Due to expense, I’m not a high-grade collector, so this is one of the very best cards I have in terms of its condition. I think it could grade out at a 7. That’s about as good as it gets for me.

Don Buford is clearly the more accomplished player on this combo rookie card, but Fritz Ackley is one of those names that will always be a footnote in card collecting history (and here, it appears as if he’s been photographed in his back yard). Ackley pitched in exactly five games in his MLB career for a grand total of 19 1/3 innings, so he’s not really going to be remembered for anything he did on the field. However, Ackley had the honor of being featured two years in a row on a combo rookie card. The first is the one you see here. The second, in 1965, is card #477, which he shares with Steve Carlton. Carlton and Ackley combined for 330 career wins. Ackley had one of those.

Ackley never got a baseball card to himself. He was purchased by the Cardinals after the 1964 season, so the card he shares with Carlton features him as a Cardinal — but he’s wearing a White Sox uniform in the picture. They just airbrushed out the logo on his hat. Ackley never pitched in a game with the Cards. He did, however, pitch in the minor leagues from 1954 until 1967. As a 26-year-old in 1963, he went 18-5 with a 2.76 in his first year in AAA and was named Pitcher of the Year in the International League. That earned him a look in the bigs, but he didn’t stick and ended up back in AAA until quitting at age 30.

Ackley died in 2002 at the age of 65.

Buford was a player who would’ve both excited and horrified Billy Beane. When he went to the Baltimore Orioles in 1968 and played in three World Series in the last five years of his career, he was an OBP machine, posting a .385 over those five seasons. That number was dragged down by his dreadful final season in 1972, in which he hit .206/.326/.267 in 485 PA.

But before that, Buford was a dream for a guy like Earl Weaver, who could plug Buford in as a leadoff hitter and watch him get on base for the sluggers hitting behind him. In the three consecutive seasons the Orioles won the AL pennant (1969-71), Buford’s OBP was .397, .406 and .413. He scored 99 runs each season, averaged 16 homers and walked 115 more times than he struck out.

But then there was the base stealing. Actually, for most of his career Buford was pretty good at stealing bases, but overall he was caught about a third of the time. In 1969 — an otherwise solid season — he went just 19-for-37 on steals.

Buford was 27 by the time he got a full-time job with the White Sox in 1964. His best season in Chicago was in 1965, when he hit .283/.358/.389 with 10 homers and 93 runs scored. But he never really had a great season with the Sox. After the 1967 season, he was packaged in a deal that brought Luis Aparicio back to Chicago from Baltimore. It turned out to be a pretty good deal for the Orioles.

After a bad year in 1972, Buford went to play in Japan for four seasons. After that, he got into coaching and served on Frank Robinson’s staff with the Giants, Orioles and Nats. He also managed a few seasons in the minors. His son, Damon, played nine years in the Majors.

Don Buford is currently 74 years old.