Baseball cards for the lulz

After the Royals won the Wild Card game and officially ended their postseason drought, I thought of a novel way to celebrate it: Celebrate their badness.

After all, there are people who celebrate the 1962 Mets, and between 1986 and 2013 the Royals had quite a few players who wouldn’t have been good enough for the 1962 Mets, so why not?

So I dredged up the memories of those players I’ve tried to forget, so I could buy baseball cards of them.

The shop owner snickered audibly as he dropped Yuni Betancourt on the pile. He was a bit more charitable with another bad Royals shortstop, Neifi Perez. “He had a couple of good years. Just not with the Royals.”

Several other customers snickered and shook their heads as they looked at the growing pile. I have to admit I was a bit surprised to be able to buy a Jose Lima card in St. Louis. Had he been in a Dodgers uniform, I don’t think I would have. In 2004, when pitching for the Dodgers, he shut the Cardinals out in the playoffs and rubbed it in with bravado that would have been over the top for Juan Marichal. But Jose Lima was so far from being Juan Marichal that he had two–yes, two–tours of duty with the Royals in their lost decade.

And in a Royals uniform he was harmless. I’m not certain his 2005 performance–ahem–was the worst by a starting pitcher in history, but it has to be close. We’ll put it this way: advanced statisticians have this theory of a “replacement player.” This is the guy you’ll get if you call up a team in the other league and ask for whatever they’ll give you in return for whatever change happens to be under the couch cushions in the front office. In 2005, Lima cost the Royals 1.5 more wins than that guy.

The following year, when pitching for the Mets, he gave up a grand slam to the opposing pitcher, which ought to answer the question as to whether Felix Martinez could have gotten a hit off him. At least the Royals weren’t the only team Lima fooled.

While the store owner dug up these cards of terrible players, I showed my son around the cards in the glass cases. “There’s Johnny Bench. When I was your age, he had a TV show where he showed kids how to play baseball,” I said. “And there’s Willie Mays. He’s the best baseball player still alive.”

There were several cards of Roberto Clemente. I choked up a bit as I told my son Clemente’s tragic story. In 1972, Clemente was delivering food to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. His airplane crashed, and he died. He was one of the greatest baseball players ever, but he was an even better man.

“You should buy one of his cards,” my son said.

“I have a couple,” I said. I showed him the cards when we got home.

I did get one good card when I was there. In the case I spotted a 1935 Goudey card featuring George Earnshaw and Jimmie Dykes. Dykes and Earnshaw both played on the Philadelphia Athletics–my dad’s favorite team–during their glory years. Dad rooted for them a quarter century after their glory years. I am my father’s son. I have a Dykes card but no Earnshaw, so I had to get that one. It was a rare bargain at $12.

I’ll be back. I keep remembering pathetic Royals players, so it will be a while before my collection is done. And maybe I’ll save my pennies for one of those Willie Mays cards too.

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