Thursday, October 14, 2021

Godspeed, Mike Shildt

Back in June of 2018, my son graduated high school on a Thursday. He wasn’t feeling well, but he played his final high school baseball games two days later on Saturday. Two days after that he was in the hospital, and two days later, he was diagnosed and began treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia. 

The next month, Mike Shildt took over as manager of the Cardinals. That September when they visited Detroit, we got the opportunity to meet him before a game. He couldn’t have been more kind, not just talking with Jack, but really listening to him. Just a few hours before his team was to take the field, battling for a wildcard spot, it was clear that he truly cared about the 18-year old Cardinals fan he had just met.

What Shildt did next amazed me. He gave Jack his personal phone number and told him that if Jack ever was having a particularly tough day, or if he was having a great day he wanted to celebrate with someone, he should give Mike a call. Then, to underscore the fact that he really meant it, and that Jack shouldn’t worry about bothering him, he said, “The only way I’ll be upset with you is if you don’t call.” Then, when Jack hadn’t called him for a week, Mike called Jack to check on him. He has since remained in touch with Jack, calling on occasion and texting back and forth with him as recently as yesterday. 

Today, the news broke that the Cardinals fired Shildt. In two days, this Saturday, Jack will take his final dose of chemotherapy, his three-plus years of treatment almost perfectly overlapping with Mike’s tenure as the Redbirds’ manager. I am of course thrilled to see Jack’s treatment come to a conclusion. At the same time, I am saddened to see Mike’s time with the Cardinals end. I am sad because my favorite team is parting ways with a manager who won a National League Manager of the Year Award, overcame numerous obstacles to lead his team to the playoffs in three straight seasons, and just weeks ago led them to a franchise-record 17-game winning streak (the longest such streak in the NL in 85 years).

Even more than that though, I am sad for him. Having spent his entire eighteen years in professional baseball with the Cardinals organization, he must now look for a new employer, after holding the job he considered himself so blessed to have. I wish him the best. He’s a good manager. He’s an even better man. I will forever be a Cardinals fan, but I will definitely also root for any team that he leads. Godspeed, Mike Shildt.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

The Kindest of Random Acts

Facebook, Twitter, and other such platforms have unquestionably had a number of negative impacts on our culture. I don’t need to outline them here. But one of the great things about social media (when used well) is that it can actually foster community. I have countless people who I have never met in person, but have come to know through social media, and have been greatly blessed by those friendships.

Perhaps nowhere is this so true as it is with the baseball card collecting community that I have become a part of through Twitter. I have had a blast trading cards through the mail with these people all around the country. Two things in particular have been amazing about the experience.

First of all, many of these people have collections that are breathtaking! I am especially awed at the vintage cards that some of these collectors have! Up until recently, I had only a small handful of cards from before my childhood in the late 70s. People building complete sets from the 1950s and 60s abound in this community, and many of them have cards much older than that. It’s a thrill to simply see cards from these collections!

The second thing that has been a wonderful joy is the generosity of people in this community. Unlike when I traded cards with buddies as a kid, and we all wanted to get the best end of every deal, the common practice in this community is to generously trade cards or even simply give them to one another. Almost daily, my Twitter feed includes notices of such Random Acts of Kindness (“RAK”s) that my fellow collectors have benefited from.

I have never seen a RAK quite as large or generous though as the one that was recently done for me. A few months ago, I undertook my first project building an older set, working on the classic (and beautiful!) 1956 Topps set. I fully realized that there were likely a number of cards in the set that I would never get, but I figured I’d try to collect as many as I could.

Well, I came home from work on Monday to see an unexpected box in my mail. I opened it to find a note on top of a stack of baseball cards. The note said that a group of people got together in the Twitter collecting community and wanted to do something for me and my son (who is undergoing treatment for leukemia), and they had included a bunch of '56 Topps cards to make us smile and realize that people all over the country were rooting for our family. 

I was humbled as there were over 100 cards in the package. Dinner was just about ready as I walked in the door, so I had to wait until afterward to look through the cards. After dinner, as our family was watching TV together, I started to unwrap and flip through the cards. My entire family noticed as I gasped, seeing a Hank Aaron card on top of the pile. They asked what it was, and I didn’t want to interrupt the show we were watching, so I said told them to just go on watching it, figuring that I could tell them about it at a commercial. As I began to look through the pile though, I gasped once more: Kaline, Berra, Clemente, Mays and a number of other Hall of Famers, including finally a beautiful Ted Williams card.

My wife could see that I was almost in shock, and she insisted that I tell them what was affecting me. I handed the cards to my son as he paused the TV show and he showed them to my wife and daughter. I initially choked back tears but eventually conceded to them, as I considered the kindness that had been shown to me by this wonderful group of people. A few of the cards included were the kind of “holy grail” cards that I honestly thought I’d never own, and now here they were as part of my collection!

These 20 people (none of whom have I ever met in person, and only perhaps half of whom have I even interacted with) truly took my breath away with this act. I wish there were words that could adequately express how grateful I am. If there are such words, they are certainly beyond me. This much I can say: I count myself incredibly blessed not just to have been on the receiving end of such generosity, but simply to be part of such a community. I look forward to future opportunities to show similar kindness as I am able--both to them and to others, and I invite you to consider how your acts of kindness can help make someone else's day (or week, or month, or year)!

Some of the amazing RAK Hall of Famers

 

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Stan the Man

Today would have been Stan "the Man" Musial's 100th birthday. The following is adapted from a post I wrote elsewhere when Musial received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor that can bestowed upon an American civilian. 

 

"Here stands baseball's perfect warrior. Here stands baseball's perfect knight."
-- Ford C. Frick, former Commissioner of Baseball.


Growing up a a baseball fan in St. Louis, we were blessed to have many Cardinals greats as heroes. But there was one hero who stood out above them all, and that one, of course, was Stan Musial. Even for someone like me, who was born after Musial retired, he was still unquestionably "The Man."

One of the greatest baseball players ever, he was perhaps even just as renowned for his ubiquitous smile and his propensity to pull out a harmonica for an impromptu rendition of Take Me Out to The Ballgame.

Once I was at a breakfast meeting for work. After we had ordered our food, in walked Stan the Man, who sat down at the table next to us. His food came almost immediately, a good five minutes before ours. Nobody minded.

I actually got to spend a little bit of time with him on another occasion. I had my mom's old 45 RPM record (if you're under the age of 35 or 40, ask your parents what those are) of the 1961 song Stan the Man by Steve Bledsoe and the Blue Jays. You can listen to the song below and that of course is the 45 shown above, pictured with a postcard of Musial's Hall of Fame plaque.

I had always thought it would be great to get the 45 autographed. Though he quite often signed in public for no charge, he eventually set up a company named Stan the Man, Inc. through which he sold autographs. I called them one day and asked about getting the record signed. When they said I could mail it to them, I was leery about sending it, so I asked if I could drop it off. They agreed that this would be no problem, and since it wasn’t far from my office, I headed over there one day during my lunch break.

When I got there, the guy I spoke with said, "Stan's actually in back signing things. Why don't you just come back and have him sign it now?" To say that I was thrilled would be an understatement! He turned out to be every bit as kind as his reputation suggested, and we spent about fifteen minutes talking, mainly about the Cardinals' season which had just finished. The event will forever be a cherished memory.

Of course, Stan Musial was not just a great guy. He was also one of the greatest baseball players of all time. He possessed my favorite statistic in all of sports: Of his 3630 career hits (fourth best of all time), exactly 1815 were at home, 1815 were on the road. What a testament to his consistency! When he retired, he held 17 major-league records, 29 National League records, and nine All-Star Game records. Many of those records have since been eclipsed, but to Cardinal fans, he will always be "the Man."

Bonus Musial Trivia: Musial's final hit was against the Cincinnati Reds. It was a single past the Reds' rookie second baseman, one Peter Edward Rose. Nearly two decades later, Rose would break Musial's National League record for hits in a career.

More Bonus Musial Trivia: Not only does Musial share a birthday with fellow Hall of Famer, Ken Griffey Jr., but (amazingly!) they were both born on November 21st in Donora, Pennsylvania, a town with a population of less than 5000 people.

Here’s the song on the 45, which (erroneously) pegs Stan the Man’s birth as being in 1921! Not sure if it was poetic license or just bad math, but it does make the rhyme work!

Friday, October 2, 2020

In Memoriam: Bob Gibson (1936-2020)

Bob Gibson was one of the great pitchers in MLB history, and without debate the greatest of all Cardinals pitchers. His 1.12 ERA in 1968 is still the standard by which pitching greatness is measured, and it literally caused MLB to change the rules of the game by lowering the pitcher’s mound. When he retired in 1975 with 3,117 strikeouts, he was one of just two pitchers in baseball history to have eclipsed the 3,000 strikeout plateau. 

Gibson’s last time taking the mound for the Cardinals was exactly 31 days before my fourth birthday, so even though I grew up a Cardinals fan, I (quite unfortunately) never really got to watch him pitch. I say never really though, because I did get to see him take the mound on one sunny May Sunday in 1987. It was an old-timers’ game more than a decade after he’d retired, so of course it’s not like it was prime Bob Gibson. After all, at such an exhibition, the pitcher’s job ordinarily is merely to toss the ball over the plate so the other players can hit it. 

I will remind you though, that Gibson was anything but ordinary. Perhaps the fiercest competitor the game has ever seen, throughout his Hall of Fame career he infamously wouldn’t even talk to his National League teammates at the All Star Game, because they weren’t really his teammates; a few days later they were going to be the enemy. And the legend is that once in an old-timer’s game, facing Pete LaCock (who had hit a grand slam off Gibson in the final game of Gibby’s big league career), Gibson intentionally drilled him with a pitch. 

Well, on this particular Sunday afternoon, Gibson actually followed all the unwritten rules...for the most part. He leisurely tossed pitches to the middle-aged (or older) hitters who had assembled at Busch Stadium on that day, letting them put the ball in play. 

There was one exception though. The great Johnny Bench was on hand that day. Having retired at the age of 35 in 1983, he was still only 39. There were players active in the big leagues who were older than him, and the 51-year old Gibson’s competitive juices apparently began to flow as he saw a potentially worthy opponent amble into the batter’s box. 

It’s possible that I have the details slightly off, but here’s how I remember it: The first pitch, Gibson threw a fastball that caught Bench off-guard. He took it for strike one. Bench geared up, now realizing that they were playing for real, but he still couldn’t catch up with Gibson’s heater, as he smoked a second fastball past the swinging Bench. With two strikes on Bench, Gibson did something that just wasn’t very nice. While Bench prepared to finally catch up to Gibson’s fastball, Gibby instead through him an off-speed pitch. Bench awkwardly offered an off-balanced, futile swing that basically made him look like the guy in the old cartoon batting off of Bugs Bunny. 

Not long ago, I did a little research to try to verify that my recollections of the day’s events were correct. I am, after all, of such an age that sometimes I find that my adolescent memories aren’t quite as I, well, remember them. In doing that research, I came across this picture from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Yep...that’s pretty much the swing from Bench I remember!

And that’s the story of how I got to see Bob Gibson’s 3,118th strikeout! 

RIP, Gibby.

-----

Related story: The same day I saw Gibby pitched, I also saw a number of other greats, and even got their autographs. I wrote about that here.




Monday, August 31, 2020

Now THAT'S a Pitching Matchup!

My birthday is October 4th, which means that while it usually is just after the season ends, sometimes it falls on the final weekend of the season. Recently, I was curious if there were any games played the day I was born, so I did a little research. 

It turns out that the only game played that day was game two of the ALCS between a pair of 101-win squads: the Orioles and the A's. Baltimore won 5-1 behind Mike Cuellar, with Brooks Robinson, Boog Powell & Elrod Hendricks hitting home runs. The win pushed the O's to a 2-0 series lead, and they would finish off the sweep the next day in Oakland.

More interesting than that though, was something else I noticed. Less than a week earlier at Shea Stadium in New York, the Mets hosted the Cardinals in what was the second-to-last game of the season for each team. With both teams already eliminated from pennant contention, it wouldn't seem to be all that noteworthy of a game.

What made the game particularly interesting to me looking back at it almost 50 years later was the two starting pitchers: Starting for the Cardinals was their big southpaw, Steve Carlton. Going for the Mets was their young flame-throwing righthander, Nolan Ryan. It would be the last game either man would pitch for his team, with both of them getting traded in the off-season. They would eventually become the two greatest strikeout pitchers in MLB history! 

The Cardinals would immediately regret trading Carlton, as the next season he would have one of the great pitching seasons in history, assembling a 27-10 record for a Phillies team that went 30-85 when he didn't pitch. He won the Cy Young Award with 310 strikeouts and a 1.97 ERA, and even finished top-5 in the MVP voting. All told, post-trade he would accumulate 252 wins and more than 3,000 strikeouts over the remainder of his career.

The results for Ryan were just as quick, and every bit as bountiful! Pitching for the Angels in 1972, Ryan would lead the American League in strikeouts (329), shutouts (9), and hits/9 innings pitched (5.3!) on his way to a 19-16 record and a 2.28 ERA. After leaving the Mets, Ryan would win another 295 games, strike out over 5,000 more batters, and toss seven no-hitters!

The one thing that would plague Ryan (especially in those earlier days of his career) was wildness. He would go on to lead the league in walks in six of the next seven years, including two seasons where he walked over 200 batters. On that day in September of 1971, this wildness reared its ugly head as he walked four of the five batters he faced, before being pulled from the game without even retiring a batter.

Carlton had more success that day, picking up his 20th win of the season. Perhaps reaching that milestone gave him the confidence to ask for $5,000-&10,000 (reports vary) more than the Cardinals were offering on his 1972 contract. Cardinals owner Gussie Busch found such a contract dispute to be impertinent and had Carlton traded to the last place Phillies for hurler Rick Wise. The rest, as they say is history.

Friday, August 28, 2020

The Chicken

As far as TTM requests go, this one was definitely a little different! Though he never took a single at bat in the Majors, Ted Giannoulas was as big a part of my childhood baseball fandom as many players! In his role as "The Chicken," he starred alongside Johnny Bench in what was at the time my favorite TV show, The Baseball Bunch. Each week, a big league player would guest star on the show, giving an instructional lesson to the kids on some aspect of baseball.

In those days, NBC's "Game of the Week" on Saturdays might be the only game you saw all week long. And in that pre-internet age, players seemed so distant that they were almost like mythical heroes. The opportunity to see them interacting with real kids (just like me!) and giving a lesson that I could learn from was a treat beyond compare.

To add a comic element though, the show included The Chicken. Giannoulas played the mascot, who had begun in 1974 as The San Diego Chicken, sponsored by KGB-FM, a radio station in San Diego. He grew in popularity over the next five years, but a series series of legal disputes and court proceedings between Giannoulas and KGB culminated in the Chicken flying the coup and setting out on his own. On June 29, 1979, the San Diego Padres hosted his Grand Rehatching, in an event that can only be described as a spectacle! Giannoulas counts it as his favorite baseball memory.

Giannoulas was very kind to not only sign my card, but to also respond to my brief questionnaire. I asked him what his favorite episodes of The Baseball Bunch, and he responded that his two favorite were when Ozzie Smith and Jim Rice visited. Those two are included below.

 

 

One last thing about The Chicken: I was fortunate enough to see him perform in person once. The week after I graduated from college, a couple friends and I made a trip down to Birmingham to see a certain basketball player take a crack at minor league back in 1994. Though Michael Jordan was the reason for our visit, it was a thrill to get to see The Chicken perform, as he was in classic form! 

Check out some of his greatest bits below! 



Thursday, August 27, 2020

Wallace Johnson

TRIVIA QUESTION: What do Wallace Johnson and Danny Ainge have in common, other than playing Major League Baseball for teams in Canada and looking resplendent in powder blue? (Answer below.)
 
As I work on Project87, Wallace Johnson recently got me to 230 cards that I've gotten autographed from the 1987 Topps set. He also signed the '89 Topps card for me, and I thought both looked great in blue! 

What made the return even better though, was the fact that he also filled out the short questionnaire that I've been sending with recent autograph requests. I generally ask players what their favorite baseball memory was, and ask who their favorite manager and teammate(s) were, and ask them about the toughest opponent(s) they faced.
 
Johnson's most intriguing answer revealed his favorite baseball memory: His team's 1979 MVC Championship season of 1979 while he was at Indiana State. I found it incredibly interesting for a number of reasons. First, it surprised me that a guy who played in the big leagues for nine seasons and had one of the more memorable hits in Expos franchise history (more on that later) would consider his senior college more worthy of such mention.
 
There was another thing though. When someone mentions Indiana State and 1979, you can't help but think of Larry Bird, who led the Sycamores to the NCAA championship game in basketball that year. Just an instant after that came to mind, I recalled that I had once seen a picture of Bird in an Indiana State baseball uniform, and I began to wonder if he and Johnson had perhaps played together. That sent me off on a spree of research that culminated in this blog post.

First, the story behind Bird's foray into baseball. He did indeed play in a doubleheader for Indiana State's baseball team against Kentucky Wesleyan on April 28th. He struck out in his first at bat, but later rapped out a 2-run single. More to the point, Indiana State had (by far) their largest baseball attendance of the season!

TRIVIA ANSWER: Both Ainge and Johnson were (at least for a time) teammates with Larry Bird!

That wasn't the only memorable part of that season for Johnson and the Sycamores though. Individually, Johnson was one of the leading hitters in the nation, batting .491 to set what still stands as an ISU record. His success wasn't just personal though. He was captain of a Sycamore team that had a great season, going 41-11, winning the Missouri Valley Conference championship (with Johnson as Tournament MVP), and advancing to the NCAA Tournament. Johnson was inducted into the ISU Sports Hall of Fame in 1985.



After being drafted in the 6th round, Johnson spent the 1979, '80 & '81 seasons in the minors. He started the last of those seasons with the AA Memphis Chicks, before moving up to the AAA Denver Bears, who were coached by Felipe Alou to an American Association championship.

When MLB rosters expanded on September 1st, Johnson got the call to join the Expos who were in the midst of a race for the second-half NL East title in the strike-split 1981 season. He didn't see a lot of action, only coming to the plate ten times, but facing New York Mets closer, Neil Allen on October 3rd (the second to last day of the season), he hit a two-run triple to put the Expos ahead 3-2, on their way to winning 5-4, and clinching the only postseason berth in Montreal Expos history. Johnson would be added to the postseason roster, and subsequently had an RBI single in one of his two pinch hit at bats.

Johnson would go on to put together a solid nine-year career as a pinch-hitter, spending his entire MLB career with the Expos except for eight plate appearances with the Giants in 1983. He retired as the Expos' all-time leader in pinch hits, with 86.

After his playing days were over, Johnson spent a number of years coaching, first in the Braves' minor league system from 1995-97, followed by a five year stint (1998-2002) with the Chicago White Sox as their third base coach. 

One final thing I found interesting about Johnson was from a newspaper article from all the way back in 1979. In it, Johnson stated, "I was a paper boy in Gary when I was younger and sometimes when I'd get enough money together, I'd go to see the Cubs and White Sox play in Chicago." Johnson continued, "I still have autographs from Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Ron Santo."

How crazy is it that all these years later, guys like me are still excited about getting HIS autograph!

Sunday, August 9, 2020

A Pennant-Winning Pennant

We’ve been cleaning out our basement, and in the process have uncovered some items that I’ve had tucked away. One of them is this fun pennant that I remembered I had, but hadn’t been able to locate for over a decade! As you can probably see, it had something spill/drip on it (that happened long ago when we still lived in St. Louis), but I still think it’s a fun item.

1985 was the summer between 7th and 8th grade, and I think it was one of the first summers that my friend Craig and I went to games by ourselves and tried to get players’ autographs before and/or after the games. It was a magical season as the Cardinals won 101 games on their way to the National League Pennant. Perhaps it was the style of ball they played (stealing over 300 bases) and perhaps it was the age I was at the time, but even though they fell one game short of winning the World Series, all these years later, the '85 Birds are still my favorite team ever! In fact, I even administer a Twitter account that recaps their season day-by-day!

Anyway, the pennant above was one that I got signed by a many of the players on that team (in addition to a couple Cardinals legends). While many of the signers played multiple seasons with the Cardinals, two of them (Ivan DeJesus and Bill Campbell) played for the team only in 1985. And one of the signers (Todd Worrell) only joined the club for the last six weeks of the season, so I must have gotten at least some (if not all) of the autographs relatively late in the season.

Two Hall of Famers signed my pennant back in 1985: 

  • Lou Brock (who was inducted to the Hall of Fame in '85, and is my all-time favorite)
  • Red Schoendienst (who was a coach for the ‘85 Cardinals)

And here are the ten players from the 1985 Redbirds signed it:

I have no idea how much something like this is "worth." Probably not a whole lot, given the condition. But for the memories it evokes of a 13-year old kid getting those autographs, it is absolutely priceless to me! And 35 years later, it makes me want to track down Ozzie Smith and Tom Nieto to sign it so I could have a whole starting lineup's worth! 

Monday, July 27, 2020

Roger Craig

Today I came across an envelope in one of my binders that I’d forgotten about. It was the envelope in which I received a signed card from former MLB pitcher and manager, Roger Craig. Inside the envelope was a sheet with Craig’s answers to a few brief questions that I had asked him when I sent him the autograph request.

As much as I love getting autographs back, the answers to my questions are often more fun yet. Sometimes they say something candid or unexpected. Other times, they simply lead me down a path of research that is (at least for me) as entertaining as it is informing. This was certainly the case today as I looked into Craig’s career.

When asked what he would consider to be the biggest highlight of his career, he mentioned his first game. That, I suppose would be a highlight for many. To spend your whole life dreaming and working and waiting and hoping, I can only imagine the excitement of stepping onto an MLB diamond for the first time. There were two things that made Craig's debut even better though:
  1. He pitched GREAT, allowing just three hits and one earned run in a 6-2 complete game victory!
  2. Perhaps even more incredibly, Craig mentioned to me that it was not just the first MLB game he pitched...it was the first MLB game he'd ever seen!
You can imagine how star-struck Craig must have been. Nick Diunte quotes him as saying, “When I first walked in that clubhouse with Jackie, Pee Wee, Duke, Furillo, and all those great Hall of Famers, I said, ‘I don’t belong here, what am I doing here?" The Boys of Summer made him feel comfortable though, and his talent took over from there.

While his first start in 1955 certainly made for a great career highlight, Craig could have just as easily chosen his final start of 1955. It was game five of the 1955 World Series, and the rookie hurler earned the victory to put the Dodgers up 3-2 over the Yankees. Two days later, the Dodgers would win game seven, finally defeating their cross-town rivals, and earning Brooklyn's only World Series title.

Craig would pitch in the World Series again in 1956 (which the Yankees won), and then again in 1959 after the Dodgers had moved to Los Angeles. In that Series he matched up in games one and four with Hall of Famer Early Wynn, as the Dodgers won in six.

A few years later, he returned to New York as the Mets chose him in the expansion draft. He was the top pitcher for the woeful Mets, which meant that and he kept getting run out there against the other teams' top hurlers. He started 64 games over two seasons, including the very first game in Mets history. His ERA over those two years was an unspectacular 4.14, but with dreadfully little run support, he lost over 20 games both seasons.

He split time between the bullpen and the rotation, logging a 3.25 ERA in 166 innings pitched. In game four of the World Series, with the Cardinals trailing the Yankees two games to one, starting pitcher Ray Sadecki failed to retire the first four batters. With the Cardinals' season teetering on the brink, manager Johnny Keane hooked him right there, turning to Craig. The veteran got the Cardinals through five innings, striking out eight and allowing just two hits before being lifted for a pinch hitter. That pinch hitter (Carl Warwick), Curt Ford, and Dick Groat all reached to load the bases, and Ken Boyer hit a grand slam to give the Cardinals a 4-3 lead that would prove to be the final, earning Craig another World Series victory. He had done his job, and Bob Gibson would pick up two wins in the next three games to give Craig his third World Series ring.

Craig would finish up his playing days with a year each in Cincinnati and Philadelphia. He would later become a big league manager, spending two season in San Diego and seven in San Francisco (in addition to 18 games there in 1985). In 1987, he led the Giants to their first division title in 16 years. Two season later, his Giants would take the 1989 National League pennant, reaching the World Series for the first time since 1962, back when he was pitching for the Mets!

Monday, July 20, 2020

Pick Enterprise...and I'll Pick You(r Autograph) Up

My first (full-time) job after college was with Enterprise Rent-a-Car. I worked for them for a little over eight years (1995-2003), about half in their rental division, and half as an account executive in leasing. During my time at Enterprise, I got to rent cars to a number of famous and semi-famous people, and got to meet a number of others. 

Perhaps none were as special to me as the time I got to rent a van to my boyhood idol, Lou Brock. They say you should never meet your heroes, because they're likely to disappoint you as people. Nothing could have been further from the truth with Lou! He was warm, humble and engaging, and it was truly a joy to get to spend even a few minutes with him. I even got an autograph on a ball I kept in my desk for such an opportunity!

On another occasion, a guy walked in to rent a car, and as he walked up to the counter, I was struck by how much he looked like George Hendrick. I knew it couldn't be him though, because he looked exactly like Hendrick looked when he played for the World Champion 1982 Cardinals, and this was nearly two decades later! I noticed that was wearing a necklace with a bejeweled "25" (Hendrick's uniform number), and I thought perhaps it was his son, who was a basketball teammate of Jason Kidd's at Cal. As he handed me his license though, I was shocked to see it was indeed George! Fifty years old, he didn't look a day over 30! Fortunately, I had another baseball in my desk (always have a baseball on hand for autographs!), and I had him sign it for me.

On some occasions, athletes set up a reservation in advance. When they did this, I tried to have a card or a photo of them ready to have them sign. I've written before about how Rick Ankiel was one of my favorites, and how I had him sign a photo of him that I had taken and blown up to 8x10.

One morning, former Blues forward and Hockey Hall of Famer Brendan Shanahan called and set up a reservation to rent a car that afternoon. A little later though, he called back to cancel the reservation because he didn't think he could get a ride there. Just like the commercial, I told him, "We're Enterprise! We'll pick you up!" He was astonished, but gave me his address and arranged for me to pick him up that afternoon. That day at lunch, I stopped by a card shop and purchased a glossy 8x10 of him. When I picked him up that afternoon, he was very engaging, and I had a blast talking hockey with him in the car on the way back to the office. After renting him the car, I asked him if he would mind signing the photo for me and he graciously agreed to do so. The personalized autograph is one of my favorites: 
"To Pete - Thanks for your help! Brendan Shanahan 19" 
Whenever people see it they asked me what I helped him with, and I inevitably respond, "Well, you remember that one season when he got off to a real slow start scoring-wise?" Then, with a chuckle, I tell them the true story.


Other autographs that I got thanks to my time at Enterprise include former baseball players like Hall of Famer Red Schoendienst and slugger, Jack Clark. From the football world, I picked up Hall of Fame defensive back Aeneas Williams and (in a roundabout way), Heisman Trophy winning quarterback, Danny Wuerffel. But that one's a story for a different day!




Tuesday, July 14, 2020

The Southpaw Knuckler

Most of the time, the cards I send out are from the 1987 Topps set (sometimes with cards from other sets included as well) as I work on “Project87.” I’ve always thought this was kind of a cool looking card though, so when I saw that Wilbur Wood signed through the mail, I thought I’d send it out.

In my opinion, ’78 Topps cards generally look good signed, due to the simple design and large photo. This one certainly turned out to be no exception! The blue autograph looks great, and unlike many collectors (since I have no intention of ever selling them), I actually prefer personalized autographs. 

Very unique as a lefthanded knuckleballer, Wood was virtually rubber-armed. The first ten years of his career (1961-1970), he pitched almost exclusively out of the bullpen, averaging 124 IP with a 2.49 ERA over the last four of those years. In 1968 he pitched In a (since eclipsed) league record 88 games, registering 1.89 ERA over 159 innings pitched.

He then moved to the White Sox rotation in 1971, and over the next five years, he averaged over 336 innings pitched per season, topping out at 376.2 innings pitched in 1972, when he started 49 games. The following year, he started 48 games and tallied 359.1 innings pitched. On one occasion that season, he pitched the final four innings in the resumption of a suspended game, followed by a four-hit shutout in the scheduled game, to pick up two wins in one night. On another occasion that season, he started both games of a doubleheader, becoming the last pitcher to accomplish the feat. 

Regardless of all that, I think we can all agree to this much: MLB needs more players wearing red windbreaker shirts underneath their collared jerseys.



Sunday, July 12, 2020

The Base Burglar

My earliest days as a baseball fan were spent sitting in the left field bleachers at Busch Stadium with my mom, watching Lou Brock. He was my first “favorite player,” and still holds that special place in my heart. For that reason, I decided to build a Lou Brock collection. Below are all of his Topps base set cards.


Some of them aren’t in great shape, and perhaps I will one day upgrade them. For now, I’m working on all the other Lou Brock cards that have been produced over the years. League leader cards, Kellogg’s 3D cards, Hostess box bottoms, and cards from other companies. There’s a lot to choose from, so it should be fun! I'll provide updates as I add them.
 
(Update)










In addition to cards, I have a handful of other items that I probably should mention here:
 
A number of old newspapers from when Lou Broke the MLB career stolen bases record, from when he got his 3,000th hit, and from when he was elected to the Hall of Fame. As you can see, they are not in the best of shape, but I was fortunate enough to get him to sign the one from when he set the stolen base record. The paper was 20+ years old at the time, and he seemed genuinely impressed that I even had it!


Lou appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated three times, so I of course needed to get those for my collection:

 

 
 
 
 
 
As Lou's career wound down, the Cardinals honored him with "Lou Brock Day," and my mom took me, as she had to many other games. I remember two things in particular about that day:
1) I found it odd that we weren't sitting in the left field bleachers (as we normally would have), but back then, there was no advance sale of bleacher tickets, and mom wanted to make sure we got tickets for that game.
2) I remember being impressed by the boat that the Cardinals gave him as a gift.

Here is the program we got at that game:     






A 45 RPM record Lou's career highlights





A Couple Lou Bobbleheads


I'm not really a purchaser of authentic replica jerseys, but for Lou, I'll make an exception!