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Fun Cards: “Baseball Immortals” Walter O’Malley

OMalley

While I love the idea of a set containing all the Hall of Famers, I would die a little inside every time I opened a pack and found an executive. Walter O’Malley was the Dodgers owner from 1950 to 1970 and moved the team from Brooklyn to Los Angeles in 1958. Yawn.

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Fun Cards: “Baseball Immortals” Don Sutton

Sutton

With only one 20-win season, Don Sutton is seen by many as the ultimate example of a compiler. After 23 years, Sutton retired with 324 victories and 3574 strikeouts, both considered “magic numbers” is the pre-steroid era. He debuted on the Hall of Fame ballot in 1994, receiving 56.6% of the vote, and his support went up every year until his induction in 1998 when 81.6% of the BBWAA considered him and his glorious hair worthy.

Fun Cards: “Baseball Immortals” Tommy Lasorda

Lasorda

Tommy Lasorda was perhaps one of the most iconic figures in Major League Baseball in the 1980s. Everyone knew Lasorda. He led the Dodgers to the NL Pennant twice in the 1970s, and the World Series twice in the 1980s. What’s even more impressive is that his World Championship teams were Hall of Famerless. (Okay, technically, Don Sutton played for the Dodgers in 1988, but he was not the most effective pitcher and was released in August, long before the playoffs.) Until Lasorda did it (twice) in the 1980s, no other team had ever won the World Series without at least one Hall of Famer on the roster. Perhaps one day the Veterans Committee will see fit to induct Steve Garvey, but he is really the only player with an outside (and it’s more than just a bit outside) chance at induction.

Tigers GM trades his own flesh and blood

Detroit Tigers’ general manager Al Avila traded his son Alex Avila (along with Justin Wilson) to the Cubs. According to Jon Morosi, this is the first time in almost fifty years this has happened at the MLB level. The best reaction on Twitter, and perhaps the best Tweet of all-time:

The Cubs will send Jeimer Candelario, Isaac Paredes and either the infamous player to be named later or cash to the Tigers.

Morosi failed to provide the last dad-sends-son-packing deal in his report, however. In 1968, another Al—Dodgers’ GM Al Campanis—dealt his boy Jim Campanis to the expansion Kansas City Royals “as part of a conditional deal.” Dad’s reasoning was that Jim was more likely to get playing time with the new team rather than the established Dodgers. Perhaps the elder Aliva wanted Alex to have a better shot at a ring. The Cubs are the defending World Champions, and currently sit atop the National League Central division, while the Tigers aren’t even playing .500 ball.

Cincinnati Red and Dodger Blue: Baseball’s Greatest Forgotten Rivalry by Tom Van Riper (2017)

Cincinnati Reds Los Angeles Dodgers Tom Van Riper book

Cincinnati Red and Dodger Blue: Baseball’s Greatest Forgotten Rivalry
by Tom Van Riper
Rowman & Littlefield, 2017

Ask any baseball fan about rivalries, and you will likely hear about the Yankees and Red Sox, or the Giants and Dodgers, or the Cubs and Cardinals. But four decades ago, the answer may have included the Cincinnati Reds and Los Angeles Dodgers. Both teams played in the National League West, and consistently battled for a postseason spot. From 1970 to 1979, with the exception of 1971, these teams finished first and second in the division; seven out of ten years, one of these teams made it all the way to the World Series. If you were a Reds fan, you hated the Dodgers, and vice versa.

Author Tom Van Riper goes back in time in Cincinnati Red and Dodger Blue, revisiting the rivalry of these 1970s powerhouses, taking a particularly close look at a game in late September when the Reds visited Dodger Stadium. Cincinnati won that game in extra innings, and refused to relinquish first place the rest of the year. Van Riper spotlights all of the major names from each team: the Hall of Famers (Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez, Don Sutton), the superstars (Pete Rose, Steve Garvey, Ron Cey), the executives (Al Campanis and Bob Howsam), and even the announcers (Vin Scully and Al Michaels).

Van Riper also touches on some of the off-the-field history revolving around these teams, including the surgery named after Los Angeles pitcher Tommy John, the free agency fiasco involving Andy Messersmith, and the late-‘80s gambling woes of the Hit King.

Covering so many players from two teams, Van Riper is unable to go into much depth in this relatively short volume, just over 200 pages. As such, some of the anecdotes seem disjointed and forced, even if they are relevant to the rivalry. There are better historical accounts of the Big Red Machine out there, and I’m sure the ‘70s Dodgers have had similar superior treatments as well. Cincinnati Red and Dodger Blue is a good primer on both teams, but I would not consider it a must-have if your library already boasts other Cincinnati or Los Angeles team histories.

Learn more about Rowman & Littlefield.

Purchase Cincinnati Red and Dodger Blue: Baseball’s Greatest Forgotten Rivalry by Tom Van Riper.

God Almighty Hisself: The Life and Legacy of Dick Allen by Mitchell Nathanson (2016)

God Almighty Hisself Dick Allen biography Mitchell Nathanson

God Almighty Hisself: The Life and Legacy of Dick Allen
by Mitchell Nathanson
University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016
416 pages

One of the most polarizing players of the 1960s and 70s, Dick Allen never seemed to be happy. He had enormous talent, but he did not believe he received the respect he deserved. He faced racism, bad press, hecklers, and more during his career, and made plenty of enemies along the way. In this new biography by Mitchell Nathanson, those events are chronicled and put into historical context in the best possible way, using newspaper articles and archived interviews as the primary source for information, with newer interviews conducted to flesh things out when needed. Allen himself declined to participate in the interview process, but the quality of reporting throughout his career served to paint a portrait of the oft disgruntled star.

There is very little to criticize in this book as far as the writing goes; Nathanson deals with the material honestly and openly, not shying away from the negativity that always seemed to surround Allen. My primary criticism would be with the title, God Almighty Hisself. Not knowing the context, one might assume that Allen referred to himself in such a way. The quote from which the title is taken actually refers to the troublesome nature of dealing with the player, with a former manager quipping, “I believed God Almighty hisself would have trouble handling Richie Allen.” As such, the book should have been titled differently.

Overall, however, this biography of Dick Allen is an enjoyable read, shedding light on the surly superstar who often held out for more money, was frequently traded, and was dismissed all too soon by the voters for the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Learn more about University of Pennsylvania Press.

Purchase God Almighty Hisself: The Life and Legacy of Dick Allen by Mitchell Nathanson.

Today is Jackie Robinson Day

Jackie

Jackie Robinson made his debut for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947. It is impossible for us to realize the amount of pressure he was under that day, or that season. He persevered throughout his ten-year career, starting in five All-Star Games and helping the Dodgers to six World Series.

Baseball players who also (for lack of a better word) sang

Most of us are familiar with Jack McDowell‘s exploits as a guitar player, or Bernie Williams‘ love for jazz and the guitar. And of course, Bronson Arroyo put out a CD of grunge covers. But before them all, Ron Cey released a single, “One Game at a Time.” I can’t even begin to describe this song. You just have to hear it for yourself…

The b-side was a song called “Playing the Third Base Bag.”

Opening Day is a week away. I can’t wait.

Fun Cards: 1989 O-Pee-Chee World Series Nancy Reagan

1988 World Series

The 1988 World Series was an epic upset: the hobbled Kirk Gibson blasting a game-winning home run off future Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley to win Game 1 set the tone for the Series in which the Los Angeles Dodgers upset the highly-favored Oakland A’s. First Lady Nancy Reagan threw out the first pitch before Game One to Dodgers catcher Mike Scioscia.

In 1989, O-Pee-Chee produced a set of highlights for the World Series. This would have been a spectacular subset to have included in the 1989 Topps base set; why Canada was graced with these cards I will never know. I was not even aware of their existence until Night Owl posted one on his blog several years ago. I have yet to acquire any as they fall outside of my collecting focus, but at some point when I become more organized I would like to add them to my collection.

In light of the First Lady’s passing yesterday, I thought a “fun card” commemorating her first pitch was appropriate. It was difficult finding a photo that worked well, but finally settled on this one featuring her hugging the Dodgers backstop after the ceremonial pitch.

First rounder, and a sixty-second rounder

The 2016 Hall of Fame inductees were announced last night, and neither name was a surprise. The legendary centerfielder Ken Griffey Jr. and slugging catcher Mike Piazza will be enshrined as baseball immortals this summer in Cooperstown, New York.

Griffey

I decided to create a couple of “fun cards” to commemorate the newest legends, but I wanted to go back to their rookie years. Griffey, a #1 overall draft pick for the Mariners in 1987, debuted in the big leagues in 1989. He was included in all the major sets, either in the base set or the year-end updates: Bowman, Donruss, Fleer, Score, Topps, and Upper Deck. So I had to think outside the box, and decided to borrow a design from Fleer’s basketball release in 1989.

Piazza was a bit easier when it came to the design. While he was featured in the Bowman set, Fleer was the only other company that saw fit to include him in their year-end set. After all, what type of impact could a 62nd-round catcher possibly have in baseball? Topps and Upper Deck completely ignored Piazza, while Donruss saw fit to include him in an insert set, but not the base. As I am a bigger fan of Topps than any of the others (at least when it comes to the 1992 design), I decided to make a Topps card-that-should-have-been for him. However, in 1992, Piazza wore uniform #25 rather than #31, so it was a bit tricky tracking down an era-appropriate photo.

I’m happy with the way these turned out, and I’m happy to see these players getting their just due. Griffey, three votes short of a unanimous selection, and Piazza, who had to wait until his fourth year of eligibility, are true examples of baseball done right.

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