Results tagged ‘ Minor League Baseball Cards ’

Piniella, New Managers; More Fun With Minor Leaguers

It is a little unnerving to consider a baseball world without Lou Piniella – he’s been part of the major leagues, either as prominent prospect, trade chip, rookie of the year, grizzled veteran, coach manager, general manager, or broadcaster, almost continually since he didn’t make the Washington Senators out of spring training in 1964. 
Besides the obvious about Lou, you should consider that he was traded four times before he got his first major league hit, had the principles to honor a symbolic work stoppage in 1969 even though he had only ten big league games under his belt, was perhaps the most notorious arguer among the active players of his time, and managed to have a knock-down, drag-out fight with his ace reliever (Rob Dibble) while at least one tv news camera captured it, in the Cincinnati clubhouse.
I think Piniella would have happily managed until he was 80 if he had a bunch of guys like Dibble – nuts as he was – who cared enough to take a swing at him. There is a certain irony to the mindset that his retirement today in Chicago was just the capper to a season that saw Carlos Zambrano detonate, again. I got the impression that Zambrano was the least of Lou’s problems, and that Piniella had a lot to do with the attempts to resuscitate Zambrano’s status with the Cubs.
It was all the other guys with whom he’d had it.
SO WHO’S NEXT?
It’ll be Ryne Sandberg. The new ownership can’t resist, and nobody can argue Sandberg would be getting the job just for his name. He’s worked his way from the bottom up in the Cubs’ system, a rare thing for a Hall of Famer to do.
There has been a lot of new information about 2010 job vacancies flying around baseball’s seamy underbelly of rumor. I have now heard “Joe Torre, Mets” and “Ted Simmons, Mariners,” several times each, and the two old St. Louis teammates would be superb choices. In New York, where Jerry Manuel has done the best he could, the Torre situation is intriguing and disturbing. The club has financially hamstrung its executives ever since ownership got leveled in the Madoff scandal, so it’s hard to believe they could pay anything approaching the five million dollars Torre’ss getting from the Dodgers these days, unless Oliver Perez retires to a monastery.
As to Simmons, he’s the should-be-Hall-of-Fame catcher from the Cardinals and Brewers, and it is forgotten now because he had to leave the position so prematurely because of health issues, but he was one of the up-and-coming General Managers, in Pittsburgh in the early ’90s. More lately he’s been a valued bench coach at Milwaukee and San Diego and would, at the age of 62, be an unlikely, but inspired choice as a rookie manager next year.
SPEAKING OF MANAGERS:
We go back to this well – or perhaps it’s better described as “this bottomless pit” – of the prominent baseball figures of today, as they appeared on minor league baseball cards as recently as 1990 and as long ago as 1975.
In this edition, three of the 2010 managerial changes are fully represented in the bush league cards of 1987 and 1990. Most of what we’ll see is from the panoramic, 2,000+ card set issued, one team at a time, by the ProCards company.
And we’ll do these in chronological (well, 2010 chronological) order. Let’s start in Kansas City:
The former manager of the Royals, then a prospect in A-ball for the Indians, no longer has the job but still has the mustache. The new manager of the Royals (right), no longer has the mustache, but has long since stopped having to deal with his given name and goes exclusively by Ned. He, of course, had already been a major league receiver for the Brewers and Braves and would shortly begin his coaching and skippering career.
The wayback machine now takes us to the prom pictures of the two men involved in the managerial drama of the Marlins:
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Fredi Gonzalez was in AA-ball in the Yankee system in 1987 and Edwin Rodriguez a notch further up in the Padres’ chain, long before one left the Florida dugout and the other entered it earlier this year. Have to say the years have treated them both pretty well. Rodriguez looks a little like the current president in the Las Vegas pose.
One side note here. In going through prospects to replace the current big league managers, I suggested that the Marlins might off Fredi and he would thus move to the top of the possibilities to succeed Bob Cox in Atlanta.
But back to our fun, and the most recent change, in Seattle:
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I’m pretty sure it’s the angle of the photography at Cedar Rapids of the Midwest League in 1987 that makes it look like ex-Mariners’ manager Don Wakamatsu is trying to hit with a souvenir bat. Interestingly, his successor, Daren Brown, already had something of a manager’s stare-down in just his second season as a pro, at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina in 1990.
We have plenty more of these to go through, everything from GM’s to ex-GM’s to popular announcers, to superstars and possible Hall of Famers. I can be bribed into not sharing them, by the parties depicted, and you birds know who you are.

Episode Three: When They Were Minors

Another round of fun with vintage minor league cards of the more familiar figures of 2010:

These are both from Michael Cramer’s Pacific Trading Cards and both depict pretty good pitching coaches. That’s Dave Wallace (later interim GM of the Dodgers, currently minor league pitching instructor for the Braves) during a stint in AAA in 1976, and on the right, a decade later with Eugene Emeralds of the Northwest League, that’s current Angels’ pitching coach Mike Butcher.
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We move to the broadcast booth. 31 years ago, Kevin Kennedy was one of the more highly-rated catching prospects in the minors, first in the Dodger system and then, as we see him on the 1979 TCMA Rochester Red Wings’ card on the left, with the Orioles. Kevin and I worked together at Fox Sports and he now does the Rays’ games with DeWayne Staats. On the right, the one and only Mark Grant of the Padres (and a commendable major league pitching career), from a Fritsch 1982 Midwest League set. That’s an extraordinary rare image of Mark. He appears to be not talking.

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Finally, two current big league skippers. The card producers, on the left, Fritsch again, and on the right, a rare team-issued set from the Richmond Braves of 1971. I think you can identify them without my help, especially from the hand gesture from the gentleman on the right – which would be recognizable by any fan of the Giants, Cubs, or Reds, or any National League Umpire!
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More Haircuts Of The Now Rich And Famous

If you didn’t see part one please feel free to enjoy Bruce Bochy, Joe Maddon, and Omar Minaya as minor league players, while we move on to a couple of more fun flashbacks.

This would be the 1979 TCMA West Haven Yankees card of one William Nathaniel “Buck” Showalter, who spent his entire seven-year career as a nominal first baseman-outfielder with no power in the Yank system. He batted .292 lifetime during a span in which other Yankee farms produced Don Mattingly and Fred McGriff, and by his second year in the minors, Buck was doing a lot of DH’ing. 
This same West Haven set also includes Dave Righetti, Willie McGee, Joe Lefebvre, Mike Griffin, White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper, and the fabulously-named pitcher Mark Softy, and was a popular set among collectors in the early ’80s, largely because of Righetti’s early dominance as a starter. Even then they were talking about Showalter as a future manager, and you have to acknowledge, he sure has aged well (it has been often suggested that Mr. Showalter does not age, in large part because he is a carrier of aging).

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And now we bring you a couple of pitching coaches. Larry 

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Rick Kranitz never made it to the bigs as a pitcher and Larry Rothschild only had two cups of coffee with the Tigers, but both have had extensive coaching careers – they each worked with the Marlins and Cubs (at separate times; Larry is with the Cubs right now, Kranitz with the Orioles). Both cards are from 1980: Rothschild is from a series of excellent team-produced cards from the Indianapolis Indians from the mid-’70s into the ’80s, and the Kranitz shows him with the Holyoke Millers, the Eastern League farm of the Brewers. Kevin Bass and Steve Lake were among Kranitz’s teammates in the Massachusetts city.
And now we move into the front office, courtesy two of the great Mid West League sets issued by the late Larry Fritsch of Fritsch Cards in the early 1980’s (the cards show Jose Canseco before steroids – no, it’s not just a picture of an empty uniform on the ground, although the only thing about Canseco 1983 was his hair). 

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In any event, if the White Sox and Nationals make an Adam Dunn deal before Saturday’s 

1983Rizzo.jpgthese are the men who did the dealing. You would’ve seen plenty of Kenny Williams in the majors in the ’80s, and just four years after his stint with the ’83 Appleton Foxes, he had an outstanding season in center for the White Sox. Mike Rizzo, GM of the Nationals, drafter of The Strasburg and The Harper, was a far more obscure figure. This was the middle of his three seasons in the California Angels’ farm system, as a utility infielder. The ’83 Peoria Suns were pretty good, all things considered. Wally Joyner would make his pro debut (but isn’t in the set) and join Devon White, Mark McLemore, Bob Kipper, and a couple of others.

But none of them ever grew up to draft The Strasburg.

A Hairstyle Is Temporary; A Baseball Card Is Forever

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.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Bochy1977.jpgThis 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 

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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. 
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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 

Minaya1981f.jpgHarold Reynolds, whose Thumbnail image for Reynolds1981.jpg

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 

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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

Riggleman1977.jpgand 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. 

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