What you are going to see here will disturb you.
In fact, if you feel like your grip on sanity is low (well, lower than usual), you may want to avert your eyes.
Impossible as it seems, all this will be explained.
This is not the late Hunter S. Thompson, wearing a giant old Houston Astros’ batting helmet. Nobody took a look at this picture and said “Oh boy, the Gonzo Journalist sure looks vaguely like Giants’ manager Bruce Bochy when Boch was 22 years old.”
This is Bruce Bochy, as depicted on a 1977 TCMA minor league baseball card set devoted to the Cocoa Astros of the Florida State League. Dipping a tentative toe into what is now an all-inclusive ocean, TCMA produced a minor league set of cards for the Rangers’ affiliate in Gastonia in 1974. Later that year there was a set in Cedar Rapids and a kind of a pirated set of stars of the International League (Gary Carter of the Memphis Blues is shown, and I’m very tickled to say I wrote the biographies – at least some of them by hand).
By 1975, TCMA’s annual production was up to about a
dozen sets, and the formula was simple and ingenious. All the team had to do was provide photographs and biographical data, and TCMA would print them 500 or 1,000 sets (I think the number was negotiable, based only on shipping costs!). Suddenly they had a promotional night, or something to sell at the souvenir stand, or something to distribute in conjunction with a local advertiser. And the only thing TCMA got from the deal was the seemingly trivial full consent on the part of the club to let the company print as many sets of cards as they wanted, and disperse them as they please.
Off the top of my head I don’t know how many different sets TCMA produced before other companies first challenged them, and then took over the field. But I do know that by 1977 TCMA, when it produced the cards of Bochy and, at the left, Rick Peterson of the Charleston Patriots (now pitching coach at Milwaukee), its all-teams minor league set, featuring an average of 25 or so cards per team, but sequentially numbered, went well beyond Card Number 1,000. If not a gold mine, it was a money stream.
The best of the players have long since begun their march into Cooperstown. Cal Ripken showed up at Rochester, and Rickey Henderson in the uniform of the long-forgotten A’s AAA-team at Ogden, Utah. But now we have something much more fun. I was recently inspired to pull down what remains of my collection of TCMA cards, and found the beauties you see illustrated here. The movers-and-shakers of the game are preserved for all time in the full flower of youth. There are no name-alikes, no coincidences. These are the men who influence the game today, and those were their haircuts. The Jim Leyland over here is the 31-year old manager of the Clinton Pilots of the Midwest League in 1975. Fittingly enough, they were a Tiger farm team.
I have only passed two of these under the eyes of one of those shown. My friend Omar Minaya, General Manager of the Mets (and utility infielder/outfielder of the 1981 Wausau Timbers of the Midwest League) proudly pointed out how many of his teammates made the majors – and not just
Harold Reynolds, whose
major task that year seems to have been trying to get that mustache to grow in. The correct answer is eight (Reynolds, the late Ivan Calderon, Darnell Coles, John Moses, Donnell Nixon, Edwin Nunez, Jim Presley, and Brian Snyder). There was also Rick Adair, now pitching coach of the Mariners, plus the Timbers’ manager ex-big leaguer Bill Plummer, who would skipper Seattle in 1992, pitcher Jeff Stottlemyre (whose brother and father have both pitched and coached in the majors) and catcher David Blume, now a scout for Toronto. With all that talent, it’s not surprising Wausau won 84 and lost just 48 and won their Division and the Playoffs. The full set of these A-ball players of 29 seasons ago can still be found in the $20-$30 range.
The other guy to whom I was happy to pass along a duplicate set of the comrades of his youth was this light-hitting catcher from the Quad Cities Angels of 1976, now better known as
the manager of the Tampa Bay Rays, and one of the game’s great ambassadors. Maddon loves all baseball history, but especially his own, and, quite off the point, sat in the dugout during Old Timers’ Day at Yankee Stadium Saturday and proudly recited the resumes of nearly everybody out there – and nearly all of them under the age of 55 had played, coached, or managed with him or against him in the last 35 years.
The genius behind all this happy nostalgia (and potential blackmail material) is Mike Aronstein, the unsung visionary who essentially invented the baseball memorabilia hobby. Until he rolled out a beautiful set of International League cards in color in 1978, Mike’s efforts were all black and white. I’ll thumb through the later color cards (there is a 1978 Buck Showalter, heav
ens help us) and post an assortment later. As long ago as 1969, he was the first to make and sell new cards of old players. He challenged the Topps major league monopoly with his SSPC sets of 1975-78. He made the first reprints. He was the first collector to turn into a veritable card magnate (TCMA was, nominally, “The Card Memorabilia Associates”; in fact it was the initials of Mike
and his original partner, Tom Collier). Sheets in which to display your cards? Mike’s idea. These minor league sets? Mike. Regular “card shows,” a slickly-produced professional looking magazine, a company that did nothing but buy the rights to, and print up, stacks of player photographs for autograph sessions? All Mike.
He was also the first guy to pay me to write anything, and among his other hires were Rick Cerrone (later Vice President of the Pirates and for eleven years, Media Relations Director of the Yankees), and a once-obscure sportswriter from United Press International named Bill Madden, who just happens to be going into the Hall of Fame next weekend.
Thank goodness Mike didn’t make cards of us. This shot of the two of us posing on the occasion of the last weekend of Shea Stadium in 2008 is plenty.