Poor Tug McGraw

1965 TOPPS BASEBALL TUG McGRAW

Many thanks to NPR’s weekend morning trivia programming for (re)introducing me to Tug McGraw. And there’s plenty of intriguing trivia indeed for poor Tug: closing out the first World Series win for the Philadelphia Phillies in 1980; father of country music singer, Tim McGraw; and then there’s that legend behind his curious moniker, reportedly due to his voracious appetite for breast milk as an infant.

Tug lived out a rather colorful playing career.  He inspired a modest if not devoted following throughout his roughly equal time spent with first the Mets (1965-1974) and then the Phillies (1975-1984). His pitching skills also earned him a couple of trips to the All-Star game. Almost as notably, however, Tug briefly met Betty D’Agostino while playing with Triple-A Jacksonville and fathered Tim. It was not until well after his retirement following the 1984 season that Tug and Tim finally developed a sustained, even close, relationship.

Sadly, tragically, Tug died from a malignant brain tumor before reaching the age of 60–but not before the bond between father & son was strengthened all the more. Earlier, Tug had reportedly  helped Tim sign his first major record contract. Now Tim helped pay for Tug’s hospital treatments. The dutiful, loving son was there to support his dying father until the end.

And the end came for Tug–late one winter afternoon in Tim’s cabin in Brentwood, Tennessee on January 4, 2004.

*SABR entry for Tug McGraw.

1953 Topps, Connie Ryan–à la Jackson Pollock

1953 Topps, Connie Ryan--Jackson Pollock, edA rather disappointing career, Cornelius Ryan never quite lived up to his full potential (or that more aristocratic birth name). However, here we see the striking image of a true stoic in the steadfast visage of Cornelius Ryan, Esq., or simply Connie to friends and acquainted cardboard enthusiasts. But despite the lackluster .248 batting average and 56 home runs, Ryan nevertheless remains immortalized. Thanks to some now anonymous devotee of the school of Jackson Pollock, the carmine ink blots and drips pay special homage to the long since expired dreams of both that inspired, aspiring artist and the subject of his poor baseball portrait.

*SABR entry for Connie Ryan.

Image courtesy of COMC.com.

Hey, Freddie! Sacrifice fly = RBI!

Once the rainy weather finally permitted the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies to play on Wednesday night (8/14/13), the Braves were really on a run in the second inning. With little regard to the poor Phillies who got down in an early hole of 0-5, Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman dismally returned to the dugout after hitting a rather commendable sacrifice fly. Sure, it was a grand slam only barely missed, but Freeman seemed downright glum afterwards–even needing “consoling,” as the commentators indicated. Someone should remind Freddie that a sacrifice fly still earns the batter an RBI, as stated in the official rulebook of Major League Baseball on page 92, in rule 10.04:

The official scorer shall credit the batter with a run batted in for every run that scores

(1) unaided by an error and as part of a play begun by the batter’s safe hit (including the batter’s home run), sacrifice bunt, sacrifice fly, infield out or fielder’s choice. . . . [emphasis added]

(By the way: you, too, can download and have your very own copy of the official MLB rulebook.)

2011 Topps Gypsy Queen, Freddie Freeman

Image courtesy of COMC.com.

Bump-da-da-dum! It’s Bastardo!

Nope, that jersey isn’t photoshopped. It’s the Phillies relief pitcher, Antonio Bastardo! Oh, baseball: land of the unfortunately named–where the boys who were bullied yesterday can seek refuge and become the millionaire major league pitchers of tomorrow.

2012 TOPPS RED BORDER TARGET 287, ANTONIO BASTARDO

However, I’m still not sure if I’d really love to see that word so prominently displayed on every single one of my baseball cards.

2009 Topps Heritage 515, Antonio Bastardo

Namesake aside, that is one handsome throwback rookie card.

Opening Day Fun with 1911 T205s

March 31st and April 1st brought the opening days of the regular baseball season. In tandem with that momentous occasion, the postal service serendipitously delivered my very first two T205 baseball cards just as I sat down to enjoy the Red Sox and Yankees game. And although my stack of baseball biographies includes some older, now deceased Yankees whom I greatly admire, it was *almost* sweet vindication for this Baltimore Orioles fan (see the playoffs of 2012, 1996 with the infamous fan interference, etc.) as I watched the shorthanded contemporary New York franchise lose their first opening day game in decades. Yet I digress from the principal topic here: this recently acquired pair of T205 “cards” from 1911.

To begin, I feel uncertain about how well such T205 issues hold up as typical cards—at least in the modern day sense. And I don’t mean that as any disrespect to these elegant though clearly well-loved and well-worn artifacts. The craft of print and press here is more than evident. The players’ likenesses pictured on these rather ragged cellulose scraps possess an oft-treasured quality in vintage cards that I opine with reiteration here: “painterly.” Even without the T205’s fragile, gilded border (about which this helpful guide expounds, as written by photography specialist David Cycleback), even with the frequently damaged, flakily absent, or even intentionally razored or scissored off semi-precious metal—handcrafted, not printed, and in copper, not gold—even sans glittery trims, these remain quite remarkable little gems of pulp ephemera. Again, though, they feel less like “cards” in light of their Lilliputian stature. Indeed, the total area of a single T205 specimen approximates that of an oversize stamp, while the rigors of weather, time, and sheer gravity can wear one down almost as thin.

First John Titus: our ubiquitous “internets” reveal he was a rather minor player whose dubious distinction was an uncanny ability for getting hit. Wait a moment—that must be a typo. Does Wikipedia or the more authoritative Baseball Reference intend to say Titus was known for getting hits? No, I am not making this up. John Titus, who played for both the Philadelphia Phillies and Boston Braves during his prime between 1903 and 1913, managed to lead the National League in “hit by pitches” in 1909, and he ranks within the top hundred for the same merit in the  career “hit by pitches” category. I didn’t even know there was such a category! Sadly, the most stately aspect of Titus’s career was his namesake.

1911 T205 GOLD BORDER JOHN TITUS, PIEDMONT REVERSE

On to Matthew McIntyre. . . . Now if you feel like looking up Mr. McIntyre yourself in the baseball almanacs, please remember that it’s McIntyre (not McEntyre, McIntire, or any other one of a number of Mc and Mac combinations), and it’s actually not Matthew or Matt but “Matty,” as the back of his T205 “Sweet Caporal” card informs. (Hmm, I once knew a “Matty” in school who’s now “living large” in the concrete jungle of New York City; no offense to my old friend, but he was not anywhere near the quality ballplayer like Matty McIntyre.) McIntyre was clearly an All-Star caliber offensive player—before there even was an All-Star game. His achievements are rather staggering and manifold: “In 1,072 career games, McIntyre batted .269 with 562 runs, 1,066 hits, 140 doubles, 69 triples, 4 home runs, 319 RBI, 120 stolen bases, 439 walks, 1,356 total bases, and 87 sacrifice hits,” as Wikipedia elucidates. And while he clearly wasn’t a huge career power hitter, 1908 with the Detroit Tigers (before a later trade to the White Sox) was certainly a stellar year for “Matty.” That year “McIntyre was first in the American League in several categories: plate appearances (672), times on base (258), runs (105), and singles (131). In 1908, he was also among the leaders in almost every other offensive category: No. 2 in on base percentage (.392), fifth in batting average (.295), fifth in slugging percentage (.385), [. . .] third in hits (168),” and more. He was second in hitting that year only to Ty Cobb, his teammate for whom he held apparently little affection as well as a “prolonged hazing campaign.”

1911 T205 Matty McINTYRE, SWEET CAPORAL

As plainly evident by the stark differences between the card front for Titus and that of McIntyre, the tobacco brands (or at least the hired designers of these free “premiums” or “inserts”) possessed some likewise subtly divergent aesthetics. McIntyre’s bust is framed by a vibrant red rhombus of sorts, and his ballplayer’s equipment is arranged like a regal banner or coat of arms near the bottom for the Sweet Caporal issue. Meanwhile, Titus is assigned a seemingly appropriate plain, solid background for the Piedmont (“factory 42 reverse”?) card. Excepting of course the content of printed matter on their careers, the un-exemplary card backs are nearly identical for these two, incredibly dissimilar players.

Eddie Waitkus—1952, Bowman, OR When Love in the Form of a Silver Bullet Slowed Fast Eddie Down

Eddie Waitkus, ed

This is the third post in a week related to The Natural (1984), but I for one have not lost interest yet. Shortly after seeing the film, I started searching for Eddie Waitkus cards, “and original, not re-released—underlined.” To my surprise, even many of the older Waitkus cards are quite affordable, though this may have something to do with his rather uneven playing career after the infamous Steinhagen episode.

In as much, I recently found this 1952 Bowman card of Eddie Waitkus for $3.60 (including shipping) in an online auction. For an authentic, painterly Bowman of the original “Natural” (a nickname by which he was actually known as a young rookie), I thought the price was more than a fair deal. Not unlike Waitkus by this point in his playing career in 1952, the card has seen some wear with a noticeable corner crease and a little loss of sharpness and vibrancy in color. You may also observe by the front signature script that his name often appeared as “Edward” instead of Eddie on his cards.

1952 was three years after Waitkus had been shot by Ruth Ann Steinhagen in her room in the Edgewater Beach Hotel in Chicago. That fateful day in June of 1949 during his first season with the Philadelphia Phillies (after being traded by the Cubs) would haunt Waitkus for much of his later career and life after baseball. He reportedly suffered post-traumatic stress syndrome and experienced problems with alcoholism.

His career statistics attest to a decline in his performance on the field as well. Beginning in 1952, Waitkus saw fewer and fewer chances at bat. After the shooting, he also never hit .300 again, which he had managed twice before—both in 1946 and up to the point when he was shot in that ultimately harrowing season of 1949. He was even an All-Star selection in 1948 and 1949, but he never achieved that distinction again either.

Waitkus continued to play in the majors until he retired in 1955. Although most of his later years are generally characterized by struggle and martial strife, he did return to baseball—as an instructor at the Ted Williams baseball camp. As with many ballplayers from his era who heavily consumed tobacco, Waitkus eventually died from esophageal cancer. He was age 53.