My 10th ’35 Goudey: Ted Lyons and Mule Haas

Once I’d drained my local supply of 1935 Goudeys, I turned to Ebay. To keep some sport in it and keep costs down a bit, initially I decided to limit myself to auction listings rather than buy-it-nows.

The first time I looked, I could have bought every ’35 I lacked, spare one, via buy-it-now, and the one I couldn’t find wasn’t an expensive card. To me, that’s not really collecting. Collecting ought to involve some chase, and waiting an extra week for a com

So, in that spirit, I bid on a 1935 card featuring four Chicago White Sox one Sunday evening, and won.

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My fifth 1935 Goudey: Dazzy Vance

My fifth 1935 Goudey: Dazzy Vance

As I mentioned before, four of my cards came in a single visit to a local baseball card shop. The nicest card in terms of condition that I bought in that four-card batch featured Hall of Fame pitcher Dazzy Vance, so overall it was probably the best card out of the batch as well.

Vance is the only Hall of Famer on this card, but the other three players certainly had interesting careers, even though 1935 wasn’t necessarily a highlight year for any of them.

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My second 1935 Goudey: Grimes, Klein, and Cuyler

My second 1935 Goudey: Grimes, Klein, and Cuyler

Sometime around the sixth grade I realized that prices on modern cards were very volatile. If a star player had a bad month, his card prices were likely to suffer, while a good month or good season could send prices skyward. I have few regrets in life, but I do wish I’d sold or traded off my Jose Canseco rookie cards when their book value was $300. I could buy several today for $5 or $6 if I wanted more. (I’ll pass.)

That’s about what I paid for my second 1935 Goudey card, which featured not one but three Hall of Famers in Chicago Cubs uniforms: Burleigh Grimes, Chuck Klein, and Kiki Cuyler, along with Woody English. And when I bought that card in the late 1980s, I knew none of them were going to have a bad year the next year.

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Things I said at the Royals-Cardinals game last night

So last night I went to the Royals-Cardinals game in St. Louis with one of my best friends. Being a Cardinals fan, he doesn’t follow the Royals much, so I filled him in a bit.

I told him I like when the Royals play National League teams and don’t have the DH rule, because their pitchers are some of their best hitters. To prove my point, James Shields, the Royals’ starting pitcher, went two for two with a single, a double, a run scored and a run batted in. Read more

I’ll miss you, Gary Carter

I was really sorry to see that Gary Carter lost his battle with cancer this week. He never played for my team and was never my favorite player but I can’t think of a player who exemplified baseball in the 1980s and everything that was right with it more than he did.

In the 1980s, he picked up the torch from Johnny Bench to become the best catcher in the National League. At the beginning of the decade, he was a perennial All-Star. He won a World Series in dramatic fashion in 1986, while playing for the hated New York Mets. By the end of the decade, he was a part-time player. But he never quit smiling, and he played the game in a way fitting of his nickname, “The Kid.” He kept on playing, even if only as a part-timer, until his body wouldn’t let him do it anymore. The same way we played baseball in the back yard.
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Bruce Sutter vs Lee Smith makes sense to me

ESPN’s David Schoenfield writes, regarding Hall of Fame votes, and Bruce Sutter vs Lee Smith specifically:

Why does [Bruce] Sutter start at 23.9 percent [of the vote] and later gain momentum and enshrinement after 13 years on the ballot, but Lee Smith start at 42.3 percent and after nine years remain at 45.3 percent?

It doesn’t make sense.

As someone who grew up in St. Louis watching both pitchers, it makes sense to me. Sutter and Smith look similar by some mathematical models, but the people who watched them remember them differently. And memory is everything when it comes to close-call Hall of Fame candidates.

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Before they were Cardinals…

I just finished reading Before They Were Cardinals, a history of the American Association St. Louis Browns, by Jon David Cash.

I have mixed feelings about the book.Most people know the Cardinals are one of the oldest baseball franchises. What most don’t know is that the Cardinals didn’t start out in the National League, were formerly known as the Browns (not to be confused with the later St. Louis Browns of the American League that moved to Baltimore in 1954), and that the tradition of the World Series originated here in St. Louis,

This book gives a nice overview of the early history of the St. Louis franchise and the American Association, the league in which the team had its first early successes.

The upside of the book is that it is very academic. It cites everything and the old maps and photographs prove the author spent hours at the Missouri Historical Society unearthing treasures.

The downside is that the book is academic. While I certainly understand the desire to rise above the sensationalist, opinionated late 19th-century journalism that serves as most of the book’s primary sources, a lot of the color that makes the early history of this team interesting isn’t in the book. The colorful and eccentric owner, Christian Frederick Wilhem von der Ahe, is presented as a German immigrant who bought a bar, noticed one day that his patrons all left in a rush for a few hours on Sunday, then returned to spend a leisurely rest of the day. After asking where everyone went and hearing about baseball, he invested in the team and made (and later lost) a fortune doing so.

That’s all fine and good, but it’s a one-dimensional picture of Chris Von der Ahe. Yes, he was an astute and successful self-made immigrant businessman–the embodiment of the American Dream if there ever was one. While some mention of his nouveau riche excesses is in the book, much of what made him so despised outside of St. Louis isn’t mentioned.

My personal favorite Von der Ahe story, the larger-than-life statue of himself erected outside of Sportsman’s Park to celebrate the successful 1885 season, gets no mention in the book. There is mention that Von der Ahe is buried underneath a large statue of himself, but no mention of where the statue came from.

I did find it very interesting that Von der Ahe, convinced there was no money left to be made in St. Louis, plotted to win the 1887 World Series and then move his world championship team to New York where he could draw bigger crowds, more beer sales, and bigger profits. The team never won another World Series under his ownership, however, so Von der Ahe never put that plan into motion.

Unfortunately, the book ends abruptly with the American Association’s merger with the National League, with only a brief epilogue at the end talking about the slow fall of Von der Ahe and his loss of the franchise.

In the book’s defense, Von der Ahe gets more treatment elsewhere while the American Association is little more than a footnote today, so I can see why the author chose to focus on the more neglected subject. It makes for better scholarship. Since this book is published by the University of Missouri Press and not Random House, I can see why the book was written the way it was.

If you want good history, particularly of what it was that made the American Association what it was–and this is fair, because the St. Louis club was the dominant team of that league and era–then this is a great book. If you’re looking for colorful stories about a guy who was like Ted Turner and George Steinbrenner and Charlie Finley and Bill Veeck all wrapped up into one with a dash of Jay Gatsby thrown in, look elsewhere.

Team of destiny?

The Boston Red Sox just won a World Series.

A lot of people won’t understand the irony of that. But lots of baseball fans are shaking their heads with me.It was a story. Facing their arch-rivals in the playoffs, the New York Scum, the S*censored*had the Sox down three games to none. In all of American sports, only two teams had ever come back from 3-0 to win a championship. Both times, it had been in the NHL. No baseball team had done it. Especially not against a baseball team with a $183 million payroll.

Boston did it, with nothing going for it. One of the sportscasters put it this way, after game 3. He asked whether Boston had ever won 4 straight during the regular season. Still, it looked gloomy, but Boston did it.

Next up: The St. Louis Cardinals. A team with the best record in baseball, and a roster that looked like an All-Star team.

Game 1 was a slugfest. Such is to be expected from two teams with depleted pitching staffs. But Boston outslugged the National League All-Stars, er, Cardinals.

Game 2, the Red Sox pitched Curt Schilling, again. There was little doubt Schilling would win, at least not from me. No pitcher has ever been more determined to win a World Series game than Schilling was on that day.

One telling sign: Boston made 8 errors in those two games. The Cardinals normally eat up teams that play shoddy defense. The Cardinals didn’t.

Game 3 was the turning point. Pedro Martinez is a formidable but moody pitcher. When he’s pitching well, he’s as good as anyone ever was. When he’s not pitching well, it’s like extended batting practice. St. Louis expected batting practice.

For three innings it was. Martinez looked shaky. Leading off the third, Martinez allowed Jeff Suppan, the opposing pitcher, to reach base. Suppan pitched most of his career in the American League, where he got about 12 opportunities a year to swing a bat. Then Edgar Renteria hit a long double. Second and third, nobody out, with the big boppers coming to bat. But then Larry Walker hit a ground ball, and for some reason, Suppan didn’t run home. Why? Beats me. But Suppan doesn’t run the bases much. He got hung up after Walker was thrown out at first. What should have been the tying run turned into a double play.

And that was the turning point of the game. From that play on, Pedro Martinez finally showed up at the ballpark. Batting practice over. Enter the 3-time Cy Young Award winner. Boston cruised to a 4-1 victory.

And Boston not only didn’t make any errors, but both of Boston’s most notorious glove handlers, Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz–two arguments for the DH, to be certain–contributed good defensive plays with their gloves.

Suddenly St. Louis faced the same odds Boston had beaten a week earlier. But did the Cardinals ever win 4 straight during the regular season? And what did Boston have left? Derek Lowe, a pitcher whose sinking pitches are often matched by his attitude, in Game 4. Tim Wakefield, most likely, in Game 5–a knuckleballer who tends to give up runs in bunches. There was question whether Curt Schilling could come back to pitch Game 6–he had to be sewed back together before every outing and there wasn’t much of anything left to sew. More likely, Bronson Arroyo would have to start. Arroyo was the losing pitcher in Boston’s humiliating 19-8 loss. And in Game 7, the unpredictable Pedro Martinez.

I wasn’t ready to write off the Cardinals.

But then Johnny Damon led off Game 4 with a home run. It proved to be the game winner, as St. Louis only managed four hits against Derek Lowe and three relievers. And Boston’s defense held up once again.

Team of destiny? Maybe, maybe not. I think it was more a team of intimidation. The Red Sox weren’t intimidated, and the Cardinals were.

Both teams look likely to have different makeups next year. Perhaps dramatically different.

But for now, Boston has what it hasn’t had for 86 years: A World Series trophy.

But the Cardinals have nothing to be disappointed about. They were supposed to finish fourth. They ended up with the best record in baseball. With their division rivals looking different next year too, the Cardinals can look forward to next year.

Some baseball players entertain; Dave Dravecky changed my life

This evening I looked at the list of short biographies I’ve written. Some were requests. A number of them were people I found fascinating. And in the case of Lyman Bostock and George Brett, they were men who changed the way I lived life.
I asked myself who was missing. And I came up with some names.

Dave Dravecky.

Dave Dravecky. Man, what can I tell you about Dave Dravecky? He happened to be pitching on one of the worst days of my life. I won’t go into details–it wasn’t his fault. The day would have been a little bit better if he hadn’t pitched those two shutout innings, but not much.

Three years later, my dad scored tickets to Game 2 of the 1987 National League Playoffs at Busch Stadium. Dad and I made a career of living in eastern Missouri and hating the Cardinals; we donned our Royals gear and watched Dravecky pitch the best baseball game I ever saw in person, tossing a sparkling two-hitter. Amazing. I remember thinking that must have been what it was like to watch Lefty Grove or Sandy Koufax pitch.

The next season, Dravecky started feeling sick. Doctors found cancer in his pitching arm. They took half his deltoid muscle and froze the humerus bone. The doctors’ goal was to kill the cancer and leave enough arm for him to be able to do things like tie his shoes. Dravecky’s goal was to pitch in the majors again.

You can probably guess what’s next, since the story’s not over yet. He pitched two games for the San Francisco Giants in August 1989. The first game was a drama. Not a masterpiece like the game I saw at Busch, but a solid 8-inning performance that he won 4-3. The second game, he felt his arm start to tingle in the fifth inning. In the sixth inning, it broke as he threw a fastball to Tim Raines. The Giants were headed to the World Series that year and everybody knew it, and Dravecky wasn’t going to be able to contribute any further. It was heartbreaking. It was heartbreaking because he’d been through so much. And it was heartbreaking because the Giants lost that World Series, and Dravecky’s left arm probably could have won it for them, and what a story that would have been.

Dravecky’s arm broke in a second place during the celebration as the Giants won the last game of the playoffs. Dravecky was asking God some questions after that. Not “Why me?” but rather, “Why was I so stupid?”

Well, some good came of it. A doctor was examining the x-rays to make sure the two breaks were lining up. The good news was, they were. The bad news wasn’t that he’d never pitch again. The bad news was what else he saw.

The lump was back.

Two surgeries later, the cancer was gone, but Dravecky’s once strong arm was a dead limb. He had no range of motion and he was in pain and it was constantly infected. Two years after his aborted comeback, he had to have the arm amputated. Now he really wasn’t going to pitch again.

So now Dravecky is a former baseball player, as well as an author and evangelist. His 1992 book, When You Can’t Come Back, is inspiring. I read it in high school. Flipping through it to find details for his bio, I decided I really need to read it again.

There are other names that came to mind. Ron Hassey. I’ll never forget a game in 1984, after he’d been traded to the Chicago Cubs. He went from the starting catcher for the cellar-dwelling Indians to a little-used backup for a contender. One day, out of the blue, he was playing first base. Not his usual position. And at one point in the game, he stretched to make a catch, and pulled a muscle. He made the catch, then he collapsed, grimacing in pain. Players surrounded him. And you know what Hassey did? He rolled, squirmed, stretched, somehow made his way over to first base, tagged the base, and made the out. Then they carried him off the field on a stretcher and it was two months before you saw him again.

How he noticed that he could take advantage of the situation and get a cheap out, I have no earthly idea. I admire people like that.

I like people like that. People who give 100%. Even when their 100% is a mere 1% of what it would be on any other day, people who still give whatever it is they’ve got. I don’t know how many people remember Ron Hassey, but I’ll never forget him.

And I know I’ll never forget Dave Dravecky. Dravecky lost everything. For as long as he could remember, his left arm was the reason people were interested in him. Then, one day, it was gone. He learned what he could do with what he had left. He could give people courage. Hope. It took him some time. But he’s afffected thousands of people in a powerful way. Not bad for a guy who wondered what he had left.

There are people who give momentary thrills, and there are people who change your life.

I know which one I’d rather be.

Phillies’ signing of Thome is about confidence, not wins

The Phillies just signed the most popular slugger in Cleveland Indians’ history, inking a 6-year, $87 million deal.
Analysts note that with Thome in the lineup instead of Travis Lee, the Phillies would have scored about 70 more runs last season. They still would have been fourth in the league, even with those extra 70 runs. That’s not enough to guarantee you’ll be the fourth team in the playoffs.

Analysts also noted that for the past few years, Thome has spent a good deal of time as the DH rather than playing in the field, and they doubt Thome will be capable of playing first base for the last year or even two years of his contract.

Also, last week, Philadelphia signed David Bell to play third base, replacing Placido Polanco. Bell’s a better hitter than Polanco, but not by much. Bell’s a better fielder than Polanco (at least at third), but not by very much.

But this trend isn’t about fielding. It’s not so much even about scoring runs. I’m not even convinced it’s about winning ball games. This is about confidence.

You see, a year ago, the Phillies had the best third baseman in baseball and the second-best third baseman in their team’s history (second only to Mike Schmidt, who is one of the three best third basemen who ever lived). The Phillies offered Scott Rolen a pile of money to sign a long-term contract. But Scott Rolen wasn’t convinced the Phillies wanted to win badly enough. He refused a couple of offers, slumped, got into some arguments with manager Larry Bowa, and eventually was traded to the Cardinals for whatever they could manage to get for him, preferring that to losing him to free agency.

It wasn’t that long ago that Philadelphia lost Curt Schilling, one of the best pitchers in the game today, pretty much the same way.

Rolen rediscovered his swing, and helped the Cardinals get to the postseason. Schilling dueled Randy Johnson for the Cy Young Award two years straight, and along with Johnson was the hero of the 2001 World Series, and was practically unbeatable up until the 2002 postseason.

Meanwhile, the Phillies looked like they’d given up and entered a rebuilding phase as they got ready to open an expensive new ballpark. And Philadelphia fans are notoriously unforgiving. We’re talking fans who’ll boo Santa Claus.

And the Phillies have lots of young, exciting players whose contracts are running out.

Signing David Bell and Jim Thome proves the Phillies are willing to spend some money. This will make unhappy players play better (witness Scott Rolen’s performance after coming to St. Louis versus his so-so performance in Philadelphia last year). Bell has become one of those players who always seems to find himself playing for a winner. Young players need that influence. Bell, at least theoretically, brings value beyond the numbers he puts up. If it were about numbers, the Phillies would have acquired Joe Randa, who makes much less money, and the Phillies could have had Joe Randa for a bag of baseballs and a vial of dirt scraped off one of Mike Schmidt’s spikes. But Joe Randa’s never played for a winner.

And Jim Thome’s a big, burly, buff guy who hits monsterous home runs by the truckload and excites fans. The Phillies haven’t had a truly great power hitter since Mike Schmidt. In his best year, Schmidt hit 48 home runs and batted .286. Jim Thome hit 52 home runs and batted .304 last year.

In 1997, the St. Louis Cardinals were missing something. They had the opportunity to trade for Mark McGwire. McGwire hit a bunch of towering home runs and captured the fans’ imagination and helped the Cardinals lure some other great players, most notably center fielder Jim Edmonds, to St. Louis.

The Phillies want Jim Thome to come in and be Mark McGwire.

The Phillies covet former Braves pitcher Tom Glavine. Glavine’s been one of the best left-handed pitchers in the National League for the past decade. The Braves and Mets are also interested in Glavine. But the Braves made him a half-hearted offer and seem to be more interested in unloading salary than in making another playoff run. The Mets are coming off a last-place finish and they’re trying to find someone willing to take Jeromy Burnitz and Mo Vaughn’s contracts. Meanwhile, the Phillies have just signed two of the most coveted players in the free agent market. The Phillies’ offer is comparable to the Mets’ offer. Glavine wants money, of course, but he also wants to win another World Series before he retires. Who do you think he’s most interested in pitching for now?

David Bell alone doesn’t make the Phillies a better team. Jim Thome alone makes the Phillies a marginally better team. David Bell plus Jim Thome plus Tom Glavine signal a commitment to win, at least for the next few years, which will draw out the best in the players they have and make other players interested, as well as draw fans, which creates revenue, which can be used to pursue other quality players.

Those are the ingredients of a dynasty.

Now the Phillies just have to figure out how to mix them properly.

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