Most valuable baseball cards of the 1970s

Most valuable baseball cards of the 1970s

Although the 1970s may not have been quite the golden era for baseball that, say, the 1950s were, the decade produced a good number of stars. An important thing to consider, too, is that many players Generation X grew up watching came up in the 1970s. That, along with lower production numbers, makes it an important decade in today’s market. Let’s take a year by year walk through the most valuable baseball cards of the 1970s.

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The re-segregation of baseball

The Kansas City Star had a piece today about the sharp decline in the number of African-Americans playing baseball. Of course, when I grew up, the Royals relied heavily on African-Americans. George Brett was the star, but without Willie Wilson and Frank White hitting ahead of him and Hal McRae and Willie Aikens or John Mayberry hitting behind him, opposing pitchers would have never thrown Brett a hittable pitch.

Today, the Royals’ starting position players, their five starting pitchers and all of their key relief pitchers are all either white or Hispanic. The only African-American on their roster right now is speedy outfielder Jarrod Dyson.

I think I know why.

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Eric Show and the wrong side of history

ESPN has a moving article about Eric Show today. Eric Show was one of several tragic figures from the mid-1980s San Diego Padres who stood in the shadow of Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, one of the greatest hitters ever.

Show’s family would prefer that people remember him as the millionaire pitcher who was fond of inviting the homeless people he passed on the street to dinner.

But generally speaking, people remember him for a hit he allowed in 1985. A hit to a much lesser man. And nine short years later, Eric Show was dead at age 37.

Show’s tragedy, sadly, wasn’t unique among his teammates. Left-handed pitcher Dave Dravecky lost his arm to cancer. Second baseman Alan Wiggins became the first baseball player to die of AIDS. Tony Gwynn, of course, died much too young as well.

Supposedly the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs are cursed, but their 1980s teams have nothing on that.

But I’m way ahead of myself.

In some ways, Eric Show was a Greg Maddux-like pitcher. He didn’t have overpowering stuff, but he threw a lot of pitches well, and was much smarter than most of his opponents. Show never matched Maddux’s best numbers, but spent most of his career just short of the brink of Maddux-like superstardom. Scarred by a poor relationship with an abusive father, Show’s difficulties bouncing back when little things went wrong turned him into an all-or-nothing pitcher, and those occasional games where he had nothing were the difference between him and guys like Maddux.

Show put together a perfectly respectable career, even if he never lived up to his full potential. During his career, the Padres went from last place to the World Series, and he played a key role in that transformation. Even ignoring what he did off the field, people should remember him as a very good pitcher for a very good team.

Instead, he’s the guy who gave up a record-setting hit. He’s also the guy who hit Andre Dawson with a beanball in 1987. That is, when someone remembers him at all.

But there was a lot going on with him behind the scenes. Show was a gifted musician. Routinely he asked homeless people to join him for dinner. He handed out $50 bills like candy to people less fortunate than him. He was a committed Christian. Finally, he was a deep thinker and only two of his teammates understood him.

Show started falling apart in 1987, when the Padres traded those two friends–Mark Thurmond and fellow tragic figure Dave Dravecky. That was the same year he hit Andre Dawson. I’m familiar with the other side of that story. I was a Cubs fan in 1987, and I’m related to ex-Cubs pitcher Rick Sutcliffe. Sutcliffe had lobbied hard for the Cubs to sign Dawson. When he saw his man go down, Sutcliffe went after Show. The commissioner fined and suspended him 8 games for his role in the brawl.

What I didn’t know was that Eric Show hand-wrote an apology and tried to give it to Dawson.

Abandoned and injured, Show did something completely out of character. The man who talked junkies on the street into going into rehab turned to drugs himself. First it was greenies, which propelled him to his last great season in 1988. But that soon led to crystal meth, cocaine, and heroin. After two barely mediocre seasons, the Padres let him go, and at age 35, he signed with Tony LaRussa’s Oakland Athletics. The ESPN article calls the move naive, but I disagree. Show was exactly the kind of reclamation product that LaRussa’s longtime pitching coach, Dave Duncan, specialized in.

Unfortunately for everyone involved, it didn’t work out. Show didn’t turn into one of Duncan’s success stories.

In 1992, Show was out of baseball and in rehab when he went to see his former teammate, Dave Dravecky, give a lecture. Dravecky wrote two books about his battle with cancer and embarked on a long career as a speaker and author. Dravecky recognized him and asked him to call, but Show lost his number.

ESPN has the rest of the story.

But I agree with his family that Eric Show’s legacy ought to be as a man who took homeless people out to dinner and who forgave and repeatedly tried to reconcile with his abusive father.

I’ve been following baseball for as long as I could read. I’m sure Eric Show isn’t the only baseball player who ever took a homeless person to dinner. But I never heard of any other.

I miss my rivalry

So, the St. Louis Cardinals are traveling across the state for a much-anticipated series with the Kansas City Royals. Even when the series was meaningless, it could always be counted on for at least a few potshots, or something.

Not this year. I was born a Royals fan and I’ll die a Royals fan, but this year, I find myself agreeing with the St. Louis columnist.The Kansas City press has barely even noticed the Cardinals are coming to town. I can’t link directly to the stories because the Kansas City Star requires registration, but they’re all talking about Carlos Beltran.

Carlos Beltran is arguably the most talented human being to ever wear a Royals uniform. George Brett, as great as he was, didn’t have Beltran’s abilities. Bo Jackson did, but he spent less time in a Royals uniform than Beltran, thanks to an injury suffered in his unusual hobby. Maybe Amos Otis had them, but few people outside of Kansas City know much about A. O., and he didn’t have Beltran’s durability. Beltran got better as the season progressed, while A. O. generally got worse.

Now, the Royals deserve credit for getting something for Beltran, which is more than I can say for what they got for Kevin Appier or Jermaine Dye when they sold them off. The Royals pried a starting pitching prospect out of Oakland, who seems to have a knack for developing pitchers without destroying their arms. They also got a line-drive-hitting third baseman who bats left-handed. If he’s half as good as the last one of those the Royals had, they’ll be happy. They also got a catcher who can hit. The last one of those they had was Don Slaught, but Slaught made his name in Pittsburgh. The last one of those they had before Slaught was Darrell Porter.

Getting the first-round draft pick from whoever signed Beltran would have been nice, but this deal gives the Royals the catcher they need now, as well as a starting pitcher they need now, and the third baseman they’re going to need next year.

Only time will tell whether that first-round draft pick would have been another Carlos Beltran or another Jeff Austin, and only time will tell if one of these guys is going to be another Jermaine Dye or if all of them are going to be A. J. Hinch.

I have a hard time not blaming the Royals for not wanting to pay Carlos Beltran $18 million. The Royals would be much better served by six slightly above-average players, each making an average of $3 million. Besides, injuries are a funny thing. The Royals are still stinging from giving Mike Sweeney a lucrative long-term contract, only to see him struggle with injuries the past two years. When you’re the Yankees, you can afford to take that risk. When you’re the Royals, you can’t. Right now, Carlos Beltran looks like Willie Mays. But he’s only an injury or two away from being Andre Dawson. A major injury could turn him into Mark Quinn.

So what’s Jeff Gordon saying here in St. Louis?

He’s lamenting that back in the 1970s, the Royals were baseball’s model franchise while the Cardinals languished. And today, the Royals are able to develop star players but unable to keep them, while the Cardinals field a team of perennial All-Stars. Both teams have their problems, but the Cardinals’ problems don’t push them into last place, and while they disappoint fans, they don’t alienate them.

The sad thing is, the worst thing the Royals could do to the Cardinals this year is trade their best player to one of the Cardinals’ Central Division rivals.

Wait. That’s exactly what they just did.

And maybe, just maybe, after age and media pressure catches up with Carlos Beltran and he turns into more of an Andre Dawson than a Willie Mays, maybe once again, the Royals will be able to afford him, and maybe a little bit of sentiment and nostalgia will kick in, and maybe the more enduring half of dos Carlos who captured the imagination of Royals fans in the late 1990s will decide it would be nice to end his career where he started.

Thanks for the memories, Carlos. I know this doesn’t have to be goodbye.

And I hope you don’t take this personally, but in the meantime, I hope we don’t miss you too much.

When will we learn to ignore Pete Rose?

I’d really rather not acknowledge that Pete Rose is in the news again. I love baseball, and Pete Rose did a lot to hurt it, and talking about him doesn’t do much to help it.
I’d much rather talk about how the Royals just signed Juan Gonzalez and he’s a huge upgrade over anything the Royals have ever had in the lineup to protect Mike Sweeney. With Beltran, Sween and Gonzo in the lineup, this looks like it’s going to be a good year.

For that matter, I’d rather talk about Tug McGraw, one of the great characters of the game and probably the first of the great colorful relief pitchers, who died this week of brain cancer, much too young at 59.

But Rose’s half-hearted confession will appear tomorrow, so nobody’s going to be talking about any of that. It doesn’t change anything. Some people would argue that Rose’s never betting against the Cincinnati Reds somehow excuses his gambling, and his betting on his own team, while the manager of the Cincinnati Reds. It does not.

Contrary to what one might think, a good manager does not set out to win every game. You can’t. You have to pick your battles. You might rest your star players when you’re playing a team like the Detroit Tigers because chances are you could beat that team with your 92-year-old grandparents in the lineup. Or you might play your star players against Detroit, in order to ensure victory, and rest your stars when playing a strong team you’re not likely to beat, such as the New York Yankees or Seattle Mariners.

The reason is pretty simple. The season is 162 games long, and not everybody is Cal Ripken Jr. Play everybody every day, and your team will break down. Witness the Oakland Athletics of the early 1980s. Fiery manager Billy Martin came in, and in 1981, it looked like he’d succeeded in turning that young team into another dynasty. He had young, energetic players, and he played them hard. In fact, he played them too hard. Within a year, all of his talented young pitchers had sore arms and while most of them stayed in the majors for a few more years, none of them ever lived up to their initial promise. For that matter, outside of Rickey Henderson, none of the 1981 Athletics’ everyday players had particularly and distinguished careers either.

It’s in the best interests of a Pete Rose who’s not betting on baseball to manage his team wisely by resting his star players when they look tired, pulling his starting pitcher after he’s thrown about 110 pitches, and using opportune times to give his inexperienced young players some playing time. Betting on your own team changes the equation. Suddenly meaningless games become must-win games. You leave your 20-game winner in the game longer because winning that bet becomes more important to you than the risk of hurting his arm. You take other unnecessary risks.

Rose tries to justify his actions by saying he never bet from inside the clubhouse. Well whoop-dee-do. I’m sure he never beat his wife or cheated on her in church either. That doesn’t make those action OK either. When asked why Rose bet on baseball, he said it was because he thought he wouldn’t get caught. There’s a long list of illegal things that I could do and not get caught, but that doesn’t make any of them right either.

It’s like a little kid, caught in the act of bullying, forced to tell the other kid he’s sorry. So he lets off the words, insincerely, and does the minimum, and spends the rest of his time trying to justify his wrongdoing.

Now Rose says he’s confessed and he wants reinstatement, and induction into the Hall of Fame.

Some people argue that Rose belongs in the Hall of Fame because he hit the ball between the opposing fielders 4,256 times. Fine. Let’s look at what constitutes a Hall of Famer.

Hall of Fame rules state that induction is dependent upon “the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.

One at a time: Record. Rose has more hits than anybody else, partially by virtue of having more at-bats. But his statistics, while not as great as his fans remember, are better than some people who are in the Hall of Fame.

Ability. His playing ability is probably adequate. But Rose was a one-dimensional player. He wasn’t a particularly good fielder, he hit for very little power, and he was at best an average baserunner. Andre Dawson, Jim Rice, and Ryne Sandberg, three players on this year’s ballot who are unlikely to make it in, all had far more ability than Rose. Pete Rose was Wade Boggs with a character disorder.

Integrity. Besides betting on baseball, Rose served prison time for cheating on his taxes. He beat his wife and cheated on her. Pete Rose isn’t the kind of guy you want hanging around your daughter, if you catch my drift, nor is he the kind of guy you want your son to model his life after. Pete Rose ain’t no Roberto Clemente.

There are lots of unsavory characters in the Hall of Fame, yes. Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, and even Joe DiMaggio all have skeletons in their closets. But last I checked, none of them ever stooped as low as Rose, and they also had Rose beat in the other categories.

Sportsmanship. In the 12th inning of the 1970 All Star Game, Pete Rose plowed over American League catcher Ray Fosse, dislocating his shoulder and destroying his career. It was a game that didn’t even count. Fosse, who had drawn comparisons to Johnny Bench, was never the same.

Character. See integrity.

Contributions. To Rose’s credit, he moved around a bit on the field to make room for other players. The Reds had a young power-hiting outfielder named George Foster sitting on the bench. Rose was playing the outfield. The Reds’ weakest position was third base. At the request of his manager, Rose learned how to play third base, which opened the door for Foster to get into the lineup, giving additional protection for Johnny Bench and Tony Perez. In 1980, Rose signed with the Philadelphia Phillies, who had a Hall of Famer named Mike Schmidt playing third, so Rose moved across the diamond to first. Philadelphia was a better team with Rose than without.

Late in his career, this changed. An aging Rose became a part-time player in Montreal. When Cincinnati traded for him and made him player-manager, Rose made himself a regular again, at the expense of playing time for younger players like Nick Esasky and Eddie Milner, and Hall of Famer Tony Perez. Esasky, who usually would have played first base, instead played left field, where he wasn’t as good defensively. Milner was a better defensive player, had good speed, and was at least as good at getting on base at that point as Rose. The Reds had a better lineup with Esasky at first base and Milner in left field, possibly in a platoon situation. People were more likely to buy a ticket to see Rose play than Eddie Milner, but the Reds were a better team with Rose on the bench.

Milner was never much more than a fourth outfielder. Esasky fared better, putting together a couple of really good years after the Reds traded him to Boston, before an injury ended his career.

Playing ability tends to get judged higher than all the rest, so I’ll grudgingly admit that if Rose were eligible, he’d probably get elected.

So what’s one to do?

Here’s my Solomon-like solution. Rose has been banned for life. What’s banned for life mean? He’s banned until he dies. So reinstate him after he dies. Then the Veteran’s Committee can evaluate him on his merits.

But there’s no precedent for reinstating a player banned for life.

Fine. Make one.

Shoeless Joe Jackson by his own admission took money to throw the 1919 World Series. He was one of the eight Black Sox who so accused. There’s also some indication that Jackson, unlike some of his teammates, played to win anyway, because he put up good numbers in the series, although his detractors point out that in the games the White Sox lost, Jackson never drove in any runs. Of course, it’s harder to drive in runs when there aren’t people on base.

Jackson may not have known what it was he was agreeing to do. Jackson was uneducated, and, by some accounts, not terribly bright. Even dumber than Pete Rose.

After the series, Shoeless Joe, like six other players who took money from gamblers and like one player who knew what was going on but didn’t participate, was banned from baseball for life. Thus the owner of the third-highest lifetime batting average in history, and the youngest player ever to hit .400, was denied his otherwise certain entry into baseball’s Hall of Fame.

Joe Jackson has been dead for 52 years. Baseball still has never seen fit to put him into the Hall of Fame. Baseball has never seen fit to clear the name of Buck Weaver, the teammate who found out about the conspiracy but didn’t report it.

So reinstate Jackson and Weaver. For that matter, reinstate the other six guys as well. Let the Veterans Committee evaluate them for Hall of Fame entry. Then, when Rose dies, they can do the same for him.

Meanwhile, the best thing to do is just ignore the jerk.

Pete Rose, that is.

12/09/2000

I can’t let this stupid move by the Cubs go. And I thought the Royals could do some stupid things. But the Royals never let George Brett walk away. The Greatest Ever flirted with following Whitey Herzog over to the Cardinals in the early 1980s, so the Royals locked him up with a long-term contract and the promise of a front-office position after he retired. The result: Brett had some great years and some not-so-great years, but no matter how he was hitting and how his team was playing, people flocked to Royals Stadium just to see him.

Mark Grace is the closest thing baseball has to a George Brett today. He hits left handed and has a sweet swing. And he’s been playing first base for the Cubs since the Harding administration. OK, since 1988. And he was near and dear to every true Cub fan’s heart.

I remember when I first saw him play. Leon Durham had pretty much played himself out of a job as the Cubs’ first baseman. My dad and I thought Rafael Palmeiro was the Cubs’ first baseman of the future. Then I saw Mark Grace play in a spring training game. Wow! He had gold glove written all over him. If the ball was in the same time zone as him, he grabbed it. And at the plate, he reminded me a little of Brett. Solid contact hitter, good for lots of doubles and the occasional homer.

Within two years, Grace was a clubhouse leader. In the 1990s, he led the majors in hits and doubles. Without a doubt, he was the Mr. Cub of the 90s. He had offers to go elsewhere. But he wanted to be one of The Rare Ones. He wanted to be like Brooks Robinson and Carl Yastrzemski and George Brett, who spent the entirety of their long careers with one team, and spend his whole career with the Cubs. He wanted that more than a World Series ring (good thing, because the Cubs won’t be headed there any time soon). A class act. Loyalty was more important than glory.

But now there’s another young left-handed-hitting first baseman coming up, and he’ll play for less money, and Grace had an injury-plagued season, so now he’s Leon Durham. Only instead of being banished to Cincy, he’s banished to Arizona.

Getting rid of Grace makes good business sense. He’s expensive. He doesn’t hit for as much power as you’d like from a corner infielder. He may never hit .330 again–if you can’t get 40 homers from your first baseman, it’s nice to get 200 hits. The fans will miss Grace, but they’ll come out to see the Cubs regardless of who’s on the field. They could replace Mark Grace with Leon Durham and Sammy Sosa with Keith Moreland and the fans would still come. Cubs fans are like that. And management knows it.

You can replace Grace’s bat, and you can live without his glove. But you can’t replace the man. That was true of a lot of the men the Cubs have let go over the years: Bill Buckner. Andre Dawson. Rick Sutcliffe. Greg Maddux. Joe Girardi. Rafael Palmeiro. And now, Mark Grace. These are the kind of men whose presence makes the other eight guys on the field play better. The Cubs never understood that. Never will.

And that, I submit, is the reason the Cubs are perennial losers. They manage to keep the occasional outstanding individual in a Cub uniform (Ernie Banks, Ryne Sandberg), but for the most part they treat players as commodities, and with a few rare exceptions, field a team of forgettable players day in and day out.

The Cubs didn’t deserve Mark Grace. The real tragedy is it took Mark Grace 13 years to figure that out. Good luck in Arizona, Mark. Go get that World Series ring you were willing to deny yourself. Then head back to Wrigley Field and ask your old boss Andy MacPhail if he wants to touch it.

Thanks for all of the birthday well-wishes. Lunch was good. Dinner was good. The homemade peanut brittle from my aunt was even better. She always sends me peanut brittle for my birthday, it’s always great, and it always lasts me about three days. At about 10 p.m. I was carrying on about how I had about 45 minutes of youth left. I was born around 10:45, you see, and a long time ago I set 26 as the age when you become old. So, speak up sonny, I can’t hear you. But don’t torque me off; I’m apt to hit you with me cane.

And thanks to Al… for the greeting, for the page, and for the hits. I had a spike yesterday. Eighth wonder of the Wintel world I seriously doubt (both because I’m not that good, and because neither half of Wintel would claim me: I do a lot of Microsoft-baiting and probably even more Intel-baiting, mostly because I just can’t stand Andy Grove), but I appreciate the sentiment.

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