Hank Aaron’s appearance this week on The Late Show With David Letterman not only brought as hearty a series of laughs from baseball’s real all-time homer champ as I’ve ever heard him produce, but it also added one of those delightful footnotes to history. Letterman claimed that the day Aaron homered off Jack Billingham of the Reds to tie Babe Ruth’s mark of 714 at Riverfront Stadium in 1974, he was in the crowd. There’s no reason to doubt it: that was the year between Letterman’s career as a tv weatherman and the start of his comedy writing and performing.
Hank was there to provide the briefest of plugs for Topps’ celebration of its 60th year in baseball cards (he presented Letterman with a one-of-a-kind card in the style of the 2011 set, complete with a diamond in it – 60th being the ‘Diamond Anniversary’). For the sake of disclosure, Topps is paying Mr. Aaron to do the publicity, and for the sake of further disclosure, I’m an unpaid consultant for Topps as well.
They did not discuss two of Aaron’s more interesting cards. Obviously the portrait on the 1956 card here is the young Henry. But who is that sliding into the plate, an “M” on his cap and nothing on his uniform?
Correct. It’s Willie Mays sliding home, his uniform doctored to kind of look like a Braves’ jersey. There’s no special value to that mistake, because they never corrected it. In fact I don’t know if it’s considered a mistake – I think “fudge” is a better term.
The “Lefty Gibson” card is seldom seen and thus reproduced here in full:
If you can imagine this, Topps prepped its first series of 1968 cards in the winter of ’67-68 and not only did Gibson succeed in this stunt, but so did Seaver, who had tried it while posing for his very first card.
Each got all the way to the printer’s proofs level – just a handful of sheets printed. Then the Topps Copy Editor had his apoplectic attack and replaced both the Gibson and Seaver lefthanded pitching poses with nice tight portraits.
For years Topps has taken the rap for the mistake – there have even been understandable suggestions of an ethnic slur implied by the screw-up. In fact, it wasn’t entirely the company’s fault. In the winter of 1967-68, the newly-powerful Baseball Players Association was squeezing Topps into dealing with it, rather than on a player-by-player basis. Topps, which theretofore had been able to sign guys for a down payment as low as a dollar, resisted. The MLBPA promptly forbade its members for posing for Topps during Spring Training, and in fact throughout the entire regular season, of 1968.
Thus, guys who changed teams in ’68 or the ’68-69 off-season are shown hatless in old photographs in the first few series of the 1969 set. But 1968’s rookies for whom Topps had no photo? It had to get them in the minor leagues (the Topps files were filled with photos of nearly every Triple-A player in 1968), or buy shots from outside suppliers. At least a dozen images in the ’69 set, including Reggie Jackson and Earl Weaver – and “Aurelio Rodriguez” – were purchased from the files of the famous Chicago photographer George Brace. Somebody at Topps should’ve known, but the original Rodriguez/Garcia goof appears to have been Brace’s.
Incidentally, eight years later Garcia got his own card under his own name, in the Cramer Sports Pacific Coast League Series. By this point he was the trainer of the Angels’ AAA team in Salt Lake City. The biography on the back makes reference to the 1969 Topps/Brace slipup.
As the Hall of Fame induction looms, something I heard on a Cardinals’ broadcast the other day inspired me to hit the books. The gist of the discussion, which was dead serious and included not even a hint that the view might be a little skewed by some homerism, was that while there weren’t any coaches in Cooperstown, and there was no mechanism for electing any, obviously Dave Duncan would be elected, and just as soon as possible.
7 – John Schulte, Yankees, 1936-19477 – Jim Turner, Yankees, 1949-19585 – Mel Stottlemyre, Mets, Yankees, 1986-20004 – Mike Gonzalez, Cardinals, 1934-19463 – Johnny Sain, Yankees, Tigers, 1961-19683 – Joe Becker, Dodgers, 1955-1963
The others with as many as two? Duncan (1989 A’s, 2006, Cards), Galen Cisco (1992-93 Jays), Ron Perranoski (1981, 1988 Dodgers), Larry Shepard (1975-76 Reds), Wes Stock (1973-74 A’s), Dick Such (1987, 1991 Twins).
6 – Leo Mazzone: Glavine ’91 ’98, Maddux ’93 ’94 ’95, Smoltz ’964 – George Bamberger: Cuellar ’69, Palmer ’73 ’75 ’764 – Dave Duncan: Hoyt ’83, Welch ’90, Eckersley ’92, Carpenter ’053 – Joe Becker: Newcombe ’56, Drysdale ’62, Koufax ’633 – Bill Fischer: Clemens ’86 ’87 ’913 – Ray Miller: Flanagan ’79, Stone ’80, Drabek ’903 – Claude Osteen: Carlton ’82, Denny ’83, Bedrosian ’873 – Johnny Sain: Ford ’61, McLain ’68 ’693 – Rube Walker: Seaver ’69 ’73 ’75
fire you? Becker went to St. Louis in 1965 and the Cubs in ’67 and did pretty well with Bob Gibson and Fergie Jenkins in those places, but evidently not well enough.
Don’t look it up. Try (at least first) to figure it out. I’ll answer it at the end of this first part of the post – and I’m doing it this way to underscore why a malleable attitude towards statistics and Cooperstown is mandatory.
Pitcher Wins Per Season
Bob Gibson 14.76
Gaylord Perry 14.27
Allie Reynolds* 14.00
Tom Glavine* 13.86
Sandy Koufax 13.75
Steve Carlton 13.70
Chief Bender 13.25
Early Wynn 13.04
Bert Blyleven* 13.00
Dizzy Dean 12.50
Dazzy Vance 12.30
NOLAN RYAN 12.00
* not in Hall of Fame
Pitcher Adjusted Wins Per Season “Rump” Seasons
Dizzy Dean 16.50 Three
Sandy Koufax 15.9 Two
Steve Carlton 15.52 Three
Bob Gibson 15.50 One
Allie Reynolds* 15.17 One
Tom Glavine* 15.05 Two
Dazzy Vance 14.92 Three
Gaylord Perry 14.27 One
Early Wynn 14.19 Two
Chief Bender 14.13 One
Bert Blyleven* 13.00 None
NOLAN RYAN 12.76 Two
Hall of Fame
As usual when you research something – however trivial it might be – unsought data turns up. In this case it would include the suggestion that the voters need to reexamine the candidacy of Allie Reynolds. Somebody else interesting turns up in that “adjusted” category – Ron Guidry, at 15.27.