Greetings, baseball fans — are you ready for the unveiling of My All-Star Baseball Card Team?
The Sports Feels Good Stories boss ordered me to write an article about baseball cards and some of the cards that meant the most to me from my collecting days. It’s been a little while since I’ve collected, so I hope you enjoy this trip down memory lane — back to the days when almost every kid played Little League Baseball, and major leaguers were – usually, anyway – heroes to us.
I’ve put together a team of players — and a selected card for each player. All cards are from the Topps Chewing Gum Company because the gum they included in the packs was so delicious — well, maybe after you chewed it for 5 minutes or so and softened it up.
This team is so good that even I could probably manage them to victory. But don’t worry; I’ve also selected an actual manager to handle that — he’ll also get to handle the potential disputes over playing time with this squad. And I’ve thrown in a few off-the-wall selections as well.
Here are the starting lineup players and their cards.
Leading Off, at second base, Rod Carew.
Leading off, at second base, Rod Carew. 1979 Topps #300. Classic looking card of the seven-time batting champ in his stance. All-time favorite player of the native Minnesotan writing this article. Although he was a first baseman by the time this card was issued, this lineup is so strong that we’re going to be okay with Carew at second base—the position he played in his first several years in the bigs.
Batting second in right field, Roberto Clemente.
1963 Topps #540. The 1963 cards showed two pictures on each card. This card, like all the early Clemente cards, calls him Bob instead of Roberto. It seems so weird to me, as I always heard him referred to as Roberto. I remember his superb play in the 1971 World Series against Baltimore. His passing in the December 31, 1972, plane crash while attempting to assist Nicaraguan earthquake victims hit this young fan (and many others, I know) hard.
Batting third in centerfield, Willie Mays.
1972 Topps #49. Nice picture of the Say Hey kid. The look of the 1972 cards was a little bit jazzed up for Topps versus prior years. I liked it back then and still enjoy it now. Two MVP awards, over 3,000 hits, and 12 Gold Gloves. Not much more to say, but I’ll toss in this item—throughout his career, Willie hit at least one homer in each inning of a major league game for innings 1-16….now that’s tough to do.
Cleaning up in left field, Hank Aaron.
1958 Topps #30. Pretty basic-looking card of Hank Aaron, the people’s HR champ. I like the green background. I know I was tuned in on 4/8/1974 when he broke the Babe’s record. It was fantastic to watch. My apologies for moving Hank to left field from right, and he was an excellent fielder (3 Gold Gloves)—but we have a 12-time Gold Glover in the right.
Batting fifth is the designated hitter, Mickey Mantle.
1956 Topps #135. I have a version of this card that is beaten up. My dad gave it to me, so it means a lot to me, even if the value is not much. Mick’s middle name was Charles, and rumor has something to do with selecting my first name. Any other baseball similarity between this writer and Mantle, of course, ends there.
And hey, I grew up an American League kid, so we’re going with a DH here. Plus, I have never really found it entertaining to watch a .037-hitting pitcher strike out on three pitches. I’ll try to be less controversial from here on out.
Batting sixth is the first baseman, Willie McCovey.
1974 Topps #250. A weird pick on the card selection for this great player was with the Padres and not the Giants. But the “Washington Nat’ l League” version of this card is a classic in Topps history. They jumped the gun in, assuming the Padres were moving to the Nation’s Capital.
At seventh is the shortstop, Cal Ripken, Jr.
1984 Topps #400 All-Star card. Just a classic look for a classic player. And he looked so young – which I like to see since Cal is one day younger than me; that’s why I would get to call him “Junior” if I ever got to meet him.
Batting eighth is the catcher, Johnny Bench.
1973 Topps #380. I always liked this card of one of the best defensive catchers ever (10 Gold Gloves) chasing down a foul popup. Not a bad hitter, either. And a native Oklahoman—a state with its share of baseball stars like Mantle, Bench, Murcer, Joe Carter, Allie Reynolds, and more.
Batting ninth is the third baseman, Brooks Robinson.
1973 Topps #90 and 1970 Topps #498. (Sorry, Brooks, but someone had to bat ninth – hey, it’s like being the leadoff hitter after the first eight batters.
I’ll never forget his defensive work in the 1970 World Series, and the 1973 card shows Brooks on defense. This guy won 16 Gold Gloves. If he was playing currently and you wanted to caption one of your photographs of him, you’d have to consult a Hoover catalog. This guy essentially got to everything. The “Boyhood Photos of the Stars” was also a great series done by Topps. Brooks is featured on one of them.
On the mound, Juan Marichal.
Could you find a better pitcher? Yeah, maybe. But one with this cool of a leg kick or baseball card? I don’t think so. 1972 Topps #568. This in-action card shows Juan’s trademark high leg kick. Which kid of this era didn’t try this leg kick out at least a few times? Besides having a Hall of Fame career in total, Juan won “the greatest game ever pitched,” 1-0 versus Warren Spahn on July 2, 1963. A 16-inning shutout. Spahn pitched a shutout for 15 innings but lost on Willie Mays’s 16th-inning homer. (Apparently, both managers lost the abacuses [abaci?] used to do pitch counts back in 1963.)
The rest of My All-Star Baseball Card Team
- Don Mattingly, 1984 Topps #8. Nice defensive shot of this tremendous defensive first basemen. One of my favorite players ever. (I’d even vote him into the Hall of Fame.)
- Nate Colbert, 1972 Topps #571. Off the wall selection, but a good player. I collected autographs in my younger days, and Nate wrote me a very nice note with the signature he sent back to me. That young man never forgot that act of kindness. Nate was a native of St. Louis and was in attendance at the Cardinals game on 5/2/54 when Stan Musial hit five homers in a doubleheader—Nate was the second man to accomplish this feat on 8/1/72.
- Ron Blomberg, 1975 Topps #68. First DH to bat in a regular-season game, and same birthday as this writer (though a few years earlier).
- Jackie Robinson, 1956 Topps #30. Classic looking card of this legend. Great picture of him stealing home on this card.
- Ernie Banks, 1957 Topps #55. I’m writing this from the Dallas-Ft. Worth area and Ernie was a native Dallasite. The 1957 set has a real classic look to it. “Let’s play two.”
- Aurelio Rodriguez (the original A-Rod), 1969 Topps #653, and 1970 Topps #228. Wait—isn’t that batboy Leonard Garcia on the 1969 card? I think it might be. That’s Aurelio on the 1970 card. A classic baseball card prank there. Aurelio wasn’t a bad player, either—a great defender with one Gold Glove and 1,570 hits.
Character counts on this squad
- Al Kaline, 1972 Topps #600. A classic card from a class act.
- Tony Oliva, 1969 Topps #600. Another player I grew up watching. Injuries dropped his numbers way down—like Mattingly, I’d vote Tony O into the Hall.
- Lou Brock and Curt Flood, 1967 Topps #63 (“Cards Clubbers”). Topps likes to do multi-player cards like this back in the day. Some of the groupings seemed a little hard to figure out. But this one was classic—two great players. Lou was a class act and just passed away recently. And where would the baseball world be without the stand taken by Curt Flood? (I’ll let each of you answer that for yourself.)
A deep bench
- Jim Wynn, 1972 Topps #770. A nice card of the Toy Cannon. They don’t have great nicknames like that anymore.
- John Roseboro, 1968 Topps #65. Lovely card of a good player.
- Bob Uecker, 1966 Topps #91. Never a dull moment with Bob on your side. And he did hit 14 homers in his career. Plus, he can provide excellent and entertaining commentary on the game on those rare (???) days when he’s not in the starting lineup.
- Jim Kaat, 1969 Topps #290. We need some lefties on this team, and he was a good one.
- Jerry Koosman, 1975 Topps #19. Another good lefty (222 wins), and a native Minnesotan.
- My wife and I ate at the restaurant a few times that he was rumored to own in Morris, MN.
- Warren Spahn, 1962 Topps #399. A really good lefty. Three hundred sixty-three wins, 63 shutouts. Spahn lost a 1963 16-inning classic to Juan Marichal on Willie May’s homer.
- George Culver, 1970 Topps #92. On the squad mostly because he attended the same high school in Bakersfield as a long-time work colleague of mine. But he did pitch a no-hitter in 1968. And the back of this card has the awesome drawing and note, “George likes to wear ‘mod’ style clothes.” Hard to top insights like that.
A 31-game winner in one season is riding the pine (how good is this team?)
- Denny McLain, 1969 Topps #150. The first “baseball sensation” that I became aware of was during his legendary 31-6 season in 1968.
- Mariano Rivera, 2002 Topps #270. You might have heard of him. Even if somehow this squad is only ahead by one run in the 9th inning, our leaders should be safe.
- Lou Burdette, 1959 Topps #440. Good career, won 203 games, MVP of the 1957 World Series. Nice southpaw look on his 1959 card. But real baseball fans might be wondering if I’m in my right mind. They might call me out correctly and note that Burdette was actually a righty. True enough — he pranked the photographers by using Warren Spahn’s glove on the photo. Furthermore, the first name is “Lew,” not “Lou.” To err is human, even for the folks at Topps.
- Manager Frank Quilici — 1973 Topps #49. Former Twins infielder and manager for a few years. Frank makes the list because he’s a friend of my family’s friend, Joe Kennealy. He brought me along as a youngster to meet Frank. I was too nervous in the face of true major league-ness to say much, but still a good memory from my younger days. And our team is going to be just fine in Frank’s capable managerial hands.
That’s my Topps’ All-Star Baseball Card Team. I like my team and hope you enjoyed this trip down memory lane.
-By Chuck Mitzel
Chuck is a long-time baseball fan who works as an actuary in Dallas, Texas. His favorite teams are the New York Yankees (despite being told that cheering for them is like rooting for the house in Vegas) and the Minnesota Twins.
You’re on the “My All-Star Baseball Card Team” page.
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