Updating for 2022 & 2023 – Hall of Famers in Topps Traded

1 02 2023

Topps Traded is a quicker post than the two I did over the past week of so – I’ve got to update for all the new inductees in 2022 and 2023.

There were 9 players inducted over the past 2 years.  7 via what used to be called the Veterans’ Committee, and 2 via the BBWAA.

The 6 Eras Committee HOFers from 2022 don’t have any cards in 1980-2004 Topps Traded/Update.  Buck O’Neill, Bud Fowler, Tony Oliva, Minnie Minoso and Gil Hodges don’t have any Topps Traded cards given the time in which they played.  Jim Kaat actually has a 1976 Topps Traded card, but that’s before my project.

The other 3 new Hall of Famers were all part of trades that directly contributed to their new teams winning the World Series!

David Ortiz – last year’s Writers’ electee – is in 2003 Topps Traded for the league-altering traded from Minnesota to the Red Sox.  He wound up winning 3 titles with the Sox – earning an ALCS MVP and a WS MVP in the process.  He was in some later Update sets too, but I haven’t got to those years yet.

Fred McGriff – this year’s Committee selection – has a ton of Topps Traded cards.  6 in fact!

  • His first Topps card was in the 1987 Topps Traded set – he played a few games in 1986, but didn’t get a Topps card until Topps Traded when he passed the rookie marks.
  • He was in 1991 Topps Traded when he was traded from Toronto to San Diego along with Tony Fernandez for Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter.  2 Hall of Famers, and 2 very good players!  This helped the team he left to a World Series title.
  • He was in 1993 Topps Traded when he was traded from San Diego to the Braves for prospects.  This time – it worked out best for the team that picked him up, as McGriff was a perennial All-Star with the Braves and he was stellar in their 3 playoff series en route to that lone 1995 title from the era.
  • In 1995 Topps Traded, McGriff was in the All-Star subest with Frank Thomas
  • He was in 2001 Topps Traded set, which celebrated 50 years of Topps with a reprint subset – the Crime Dog’s card was a reprint of his 1987 card.
  • Finally, he was in the 2003 Traded set when he signed with the Dodgers for one season (which unfortunately – probably kept him from reaching 500 homers and making the Hall much earlier)

Scott Rolen, this year’s BBWAA electee, has a 2002 Topps Traded card.  In the middle of the 2002 season, the Phillies dealt him to the Cardinals, and he was included in the 2002 Traded set.  Rolen was a stalwart for the Cardinals for 6 years and for my money, should have been the 2006 WS MVP over David Ecstein.

Asterisks are where one of these guys were added:

1981 Topps Traded – 10 HOF

Bert Blyleven, Rollie Fingers, Carlton Fisk, Joe Morgan, Gaylord Perry, Bruce Sutter, Don Sutton, Dave Winfield, Tim Raines, Ted Simmons

1982 Topps Traded – 5 HOF

Reggie Jackson, Ferguson Jenkins, Perry, Cal Ripken, Ozzie Smith

1983 Topps Traded – 3 HOF

Morgan, Tony Perez, Tom Seaver

1984 Topps Traded – 7 HOF

Dennis Eckersley, Goose Gossage, Morgan, Phil Niekro, Perez, Seaver, Yogi Berra (mgr)

1985 Topps Traded – 5 HOF

Gary Carter, Rickey Henderson, Sutter, Sutton, Earl Weaver (mgr)

1986 Topps Traded – 4 HOF

Niekro, Seaver, Simmons, Dick Williams (mgr)

1987 Topps Traded – 6 HOF***

Steve Carlton, Andre Dawson, Eckersley, R. Jackson, Greg Maddux, Fred McGriff

1988 Topps Traded – 4 HOF

Roberto Alomar, Gossage, Lee Smith, Frank Robinson (mgr)

1989 Topps Traded – 6 HOF

Blyleven, Ken Griffey Jr., Henderson, Randy Johnson, Eddie Murray, Nolan Ryan

1990 Topps Traded – 5 HOF

Carter, L. Smith, Winfield, Red Schoendienst (mgr), Bobby Cox (mgr)

1991 Topps Traded – 7 HOF****

Alomar, Jeff Bagwell, Carter, McGriff, Jack Morris, Raines, Ivan Rodriguez,

1992 Topps Traded – 4 HOF

Carter, Morris, Murray, Winfield

1993 Topps Traded – 6 HOF****

Wade Boggs, Dawson, McGriff, Paul Molitor, Mike Piazza, Winfield

1994 Topps Traded – 6 HOF

Henderson, Pedro Martinez, Morris, Murray, Ryne Sandberg, L. Smith

1995 Topps Traded – 18 HOF*****

Andre Dawson, Mariano Rivera, L. Smith, Larry Walker, Boggs (subset), Tony Gwynn (subset), McGriff (subset), Kirby Puckett (subset), Ripken (subset), Frank Thomas (subset), O. Smith (subset), Johnson (subset), Craig Biggio (subset), Griffey Jr. (subset), Piazza (subset), Bagwell (subset), Rodriguez (subset), Chipper Jones (subset)

1999 Topps Traded – 0 HOF

2000 Topps Traded – 0 HOF

2001 Topps Traded – 20 HOF****

Henderson, Alomar, Carter, Eckersley, Fisk, Griffey Jr., R. Jackson, Juan Marichal, Maddux, McGriff, Morgan, Morris, Piazza, Raines, Ripken, Ryan, Seaver, O. Smith, L. Smith, Winfield (other than Rickey – the rest are from the reprint subset)

2002 Topps Traded – 9 HOF****

Henderson, Raines, Scott Rolen, Frank Robinson (mgr), Ryan (subset), R. Jackson (subset), Boggs (subset), Alomar (subset), Griffey Jr. (subset)

2003 Topps Traded – 6 HOF****

Alomar, Henderson, McGriff, David Ortiz, Ivan Rodriguez, Jim Thome

2004 Topps Traded – 2 HOF

Maddux, Walker





Updating for 2023 – Hall of Famers in Topps sets

30 01 2023

Well, I misread the tea leaves from Mr. Tibbs, and Scott Rolen did in fact get elected to the Hall of Fame!  I’m excited, I think he is deserving, and whether or not you agree – he was going to make it eventually and I’d rather have it today then next year.  Todd Helton likely will be up next, along with one or 2 new guys and maybe Billy Wagner.

Rolen of course joins Fred McGriff who was also elected this year, via the Contemporary Era Committee.  The Crime Dog was also very deserving in my opinion.

Background! (obligatory info)

The number of Hall of Famers in a given set has always been something that intrigued me.  I count the number of Hall of Famers for every new set I start, and post about it in my overview.  So, since there are now 3 new Hall of Famers to account for, I need to go back and update those posts.  In showing this stuff below, I will show the cumulative total as well.

First, some reminders.  I include all Hall of Famers from the set.  That includes someone like Johnny Bench who had a Turn Back the Clock card in the 1990 set.  I also include managers who were Hall of Fame players (Frank Robinson in 1984 Topps, or my personal favorite – Yogi Berra as an Astro coach on their 1987 Topps team leader card).  I also include player cards of guys who made the Hall of Fame as a manager (i.e., 1969 Topps Bobby Cox).  If you have a bronze plaque in Cooperstown and you’re in the set, I’m including you.

Without any further ado, here we go!

1980 Topps – 45 Hall of Famers

Johnny Bench, Bert Blyleven, George Brett, Rod Carew, Steve Carlton, Gary Carter, Andre Dawson, Dennis Eckersley, Rollie Fingers, Carlton Fisk, Goose Gossage, Rickey Henderson, Reggie Jackson, Fergie Jenkins, Jim Kaat, Willie McCovey, Paul Molitor, Joe Morgan, Jack Morris, Eddie Murray, Jim Palmer, Phil Niekro, Tony Perez, Gaylord Perry, Jim Rice, Nolan Ryan, Mike Schmidt, Tom Seaver, Ted Simmons, Ozzie Smith, Willie Stargell, Bruce Sutter, Don Sutton, Alan Trammell, Dave Winfield, Carl Yastrzemski, Robin Yount, Earl Weaver (manager), Tommy LaSorda (manager), Dick Williams (manager), Sparky Anderson (manager), Joe Torre (manager), Bobby Cox (manager), Tony LaRussa (manager), Lou Brock (HL)

  • No adds from the 2023 class

1981 Topps – 46 Hall of Famers

Gone (-2):  McCovey and Brock were gone after retiring

New (+3):  Whitey Herzog got a manager card when he was hired by St. Louis.  Rock Raines and Harold Baines got cards in the 1981 set as part of the Future Stars triple player cards.

  • No adds from the 2023 class

1982 Topps – 40 Hall of Famers

Gone (-8):  There was no manager subset in 1982, which accounts for the big drop – Weaver, LaSorda, Williams, Herzog, Anderson, Torre, Cox and LaRussa aren’t in this set.

New (+2):  Cal Ripken Jr. and Lee Smith both have rookie cards in this set.

  • No adds from the 2023 class

1983 Topps – 51 Hall of Famers

Gone (-1):  Willie Stargell retired and had his last card in 1982 (-1).

New (+12):  The manager subset came back, which led to 9 new cards of Hall of Famers – Weaver, LaSorda, Williams, Sparky, Herzog, Cox, Torre, LaRussa and Frank Robinson.  Additionally, Wade Boggs, Ryne Sandberg and Tony Gwynn entered the fray.

  • No adds from the 2023 class

1984 Topps – 49 Hall of Famers

Gone (-2):  Earl Weaver had retired after the 1982 season, with no new Hall of Fame blood in this set.  Jim Kaat retired after 1983, so he could have had a card in this set but Topps didn’t include him.

Bench, Perry and Yastrzemski were only included in a subset card.

  • No adds from the 2023 class

1985 Topps – 45 Hall of Famers

Gone (-6):  Robinson was gone after his stint as the Giants manager was over, while Bench, Yaz, Perry, Palmer and Jenkins had also had their last player cards.

New (+2):  Kirby Puckett’s rookie card is in this set, and Yogi Berra had a card for his second (and controversial) stint as Yankee manager (+2).  When I started this blog, Puckett was the most recent rookie card of any Hall of Famer!

  • No adds from the 2023 class

1986 Topps – 45 Hall of Famers

Gone (-3):  Torre was fired as Braves manager in 1984 and wasn’t gone until this set.  Berra was fired as well, and Joe Morgan retired.

New (+3):  Earl Weaver was back as the O’s manager, and we had a Turn Back the Clock subset that got Willie Mays and Frank Robinson into the mix.

  • No adds from the 2023 class

1987 Topps – 43 Hall of Famers

Gone (-6):  Cox was no longer the Blue Jay skipper at this point, and Carew, Fingers and Tony Perez all retired. Robinson and Mays were gone from the TBC subset….

New (+4):  But Clemente and Yastrzemski replaced them.  Barry Larkin had his first card in this set, and Yogi Berra had the awesome TL card as coach of the Astros!

  • No adds from the 2023 class

1988 Topps – 42 Hall of Famers

Gone (-7):  Mr. October, Lefty and Tom Terrific and Earl Weaver all retired at this point.  Clemente, Yaz and Berra were gone from subsets .  

New (+6):  Maddux, Glavine and McGriff had their first base Topps cards, and the subsets were a wash due to 3 new Cardinals – Bob Gibson and Stan Musial from the TBC subset, and Red Schoendienst being featured on the Cards Team Leader card.  

Phil Niekro made it only on the Record Breaker subset with his brother in this set.

  • The induction of McGriff increased this number by 1
  • McGriff was in Topps Traded 1987, and was actually in Donruss as a Rated Rookie back in 1986 – but this was his first main flagship Topps card.

1989 Topps – 44 Hall of Famers

Gone (-7):  Sutton, Simmons, Niekro (RB), Williams (mgr), Schoendienst (TL), Musial (TBC), Gibson (TBC)

New (+9):  Roberto Alomar RC, Randy Johnson RC, Craig Biggio RC, John Smoltz RC, Hank Aaron (TBC), Brock (TBC), Gil Hodges (TBC), Tony Oliva (TBC) Frank Robinson (back as a manager)

  • The induction of McGriff increased this number by 1

1990 Topps – 44 Hall of Famers

Gone (-6):  2 relievers exited the set – Bruce Sutter and Goose Gossage (who would be back), and 4 guys from the TBC set.

New (+6)  Frank Thomas and Larry Walker had RC’s in the set, while Griffey Jr. and Edgar Martinez had their first regular Topps cards. Koufax and Bench were added to the TBC subset (Mike Schmidt had his only card in the TBC subset this year, but he had cards leading up to 1990 so this isn’t a change).

  • The induction of McGriff increased this number by 1

1991 Topps – 42 Hall of Famers

Gone (-5):  Rice (retired), Herzog (retired), Schmidt, Bench, Koufax (the TBC set had ended its 5-year run)

New (+3):  Torre and Cox, both of whom got back in the managing saddle.  Chipper Jones had his first card via the 1st Round Draft Pick subset.

  • The induction of McGriff increased this number by 1

1992 Topps – 46 Hall of Famers

Gone (-1):  Robinson (fired as Oriole manager)

New (+5):  Gossage (back after a stint in Japan).  Pudge and Bagwell are in this set – true rookies were in the Traded set from 1991, but for both these guys this is their first base Topps card.  Thome and Mussina are also in this set – they had cards in other products (not Topps Traded) in previous years, so this isn’t their rookie card.

  • The induction of McGriff increased this number by 1

1993 Topps – 50 Hall of Famers

Gone (-1):  Gossage (retired for good this time)

New (+5):  Tony Perez (Reds manager), Pedro Martinez (first Topps card), Mike Piazza (first Topps card – Prospects card), Trevor Hoffman (first Topps card – Marlins card), Derek Jeter (RC)

  • The induction of McGriff increased this number by 1

1994 Topps – 41 Hall of Famers (a mass exodus!)

Gone (-10):  Topps did away with manager cards in 1994, which meant no cards for Torre, LaRussa, Cox, Sparky, Perez and LaSorda.  Additionally, Blyleven, Carter and Fisk all retired. Jack Morris didn’t have a card despite pitching in both 1993 and 1994.  He did have a card in 1994 Topps Traded, and some cards in a few 1995 sets.

New (+1):  Hank Aaron (tribute)

  • The induction of McGriff increased this number by 1

1995 Topps – 36 Hall of Famers (further depleted!)

Gone (-6):  Brett, Ryan and Yount (all retired for good).  Sandberg (retired temporarily).  Dawson (left out of the set, though he is in ’95 Traded).  Aaron (tribute).

New (+1):  Babe Ruth (tribute)

  • The induction of McGriff increased this number by 1

1996 Topps – 38 Hall of Famers (an actual increase!)

Gone (-3):  Winfield (retired), Trammell (not included despite playing both 1995 and 1996), Ruth (tribute)

New (+5):  Mickey Mantle (tribute), Dawson (back after ’95 snub), Sandberg (back in baseball after a year-plus hiatus), Vladimir Guerrero & Scott Rolen (via the prospect subset)

  • The induction of McGriff & Rolen increased this number by 2.
  • Rolen got his first Topps card here alongside George Arias, Chris Haas and Scott Spiezio.  His first season was 1996, though he didn’t pass the rookie plateau until 1997 (when he won Rookie of the Year unanimously)

1997 Topps – 35 Hall of Famers

Gone (-5):  Dawson, Puckett, Ozzie Smith (retired), Mantle (tribute), Lee Smith. Topps didn’t include Lee Smith in the flagship set after 1996 despite him pitching for 2 teams in 1996 and pitching in 25 games in 1997.

New (+2):  Jackie Robinson (tribute), Mariano Rivera (first Topps card)

  • The induction of McGriff & Rolen increased this number by 2

1998 Topps – 33 Hall of Famers

Gone (-5):  Murray, Sandberg (retired), Robinson (tribute), Henderson (snubbed – he even has an insert card in the product), Raines (also snubbed).

New (+3):  Roberto Clemente (tribute), Roy Halladay, David Ortiz (both first Topps cards via the prospects set).  Halladay and Ortiz are the latest first Topps flagship card of any HOFer .

  • The induction of McGriff & Rolen increased this number by 2

1999 Topps – 31 Hall of Famers

Gone (-4):  Molitor, Eckersley (retired), Clemente (tribute), Baines (snubbed)

New (+2):  Nolan Ryan (tribute), Henderson (back after snub)

  • The induction of McGriff & Rolen increased this number by 2

2000 Topps – 32 Hall of Famers

Gone (-2):  Nolan Ryan (tribute), David Ortiz (missing as he played mostly in the minors in 1999)

New (+3):  Hank Aaron (tribute), Raines & Baines (back with regular cards!)

  • The induction of McGriff & Rolen increased this number by 2

2001 Topps – 41 Hall of Famers

Gone (-2):  Wade Boggs (retired), Tim Raines (temporarily retired – but this was his last base Topps card)

New (+11):  Ortiz was back for good in 2001.  The manager subset was back, which meant new cards for Torre, Cox and LaRussa.  There was also a Golden Moments subset, which had new cards of Bill Mazeroski, Reggie Jackson, Jackie Robinson, Roberto Clemente, Nolan Ryan, Lou Brock and Carlton Fisk.

Hank Aaron’s Tribute card was gone in 2001, but he was still in the Golden Moments subset.

  • The induction of McGriff & Rolen increased this number by 2

2002 Topps – 31 Hall of Famers

Gone (-11):  Cal Ripken & Harold Baines retired, and the Golden Moments subset was gone, which meant those cards of Mazeroski, Jackson, Robinson, Clemente, Ryan, Brock, Fisk and Aaron were gone.  Roy Halladay does not have any 2002 Topps cards except for Topps 206 – so there must have been some sort of contract dispute over his likeness that was resolved in time for 2003.

New (+1):  Tony Perez managed the Marlins at the end of 2002, and got a manager card in this set for it.

  • The induction of McGriff & Rolen increased this number by 2

2003 Topps – 31 Hall of Famers

Gone (-2):  Tony Gwynn had retired in 2001, but still got a 2002 card.  He was gone from the set in 2003.  Perez was no longer a manager, so his card was gone as well.

New (+2):  Frank Robinson became the Expos manager in 2002, and got a card in this set.  Halladay was back in good graces with the card folks in Philly in 2003.

  • The induction of McGriff & Rolen increased this number by 2

2004 Topps – 31 Hall of Famers

Gone (-1):  Rickey Henderson retired.

New (+1):  Mike Schmidt was included in a subset card along with Jim Thome.

  • The induction of McGriff & Rolen increased this number by 2




Updating for 2022 – Hall of Famers in Topps sets

24 01 2023

On the eve of the Hall of Fame announcement, I realized I needed to catch up for 2022.  It’s looking like there will be 2 close-but-not-in guys this year, but Fred McGriff did get elected so I’ll get to do this again in a couple days.

I’m theoretically 2 years behind – the last post was for the 2020 class.  However, there was no 2021 class, so I just need to cover last year’s inductees:

There were a whopping six members elected to the Hall via the Era Committees.  Because of the impact of COVID, the 2020 class was actually inducted in July 2021, and there were two Era Committees that went in 2022.

The first was the Early Era committee, who elected Negro League legend Buck O’Neill (posthumously, to the chagrin of many) and 19th century African-American player Bud Fowler.  Since these were players who never played in the modern Majors – unsurprisingly they don’t have any additions for card sets in my blog.

  • Buck O’Neill
  • Bud Fowler

The Golden Days Era elected 4 players.  Minoso actually played in 1980 as a gimmick for the White Sox to make it 5 decades of MLB for him, so he theoretically could have made the 1981 Topps set, but he didn’t.  Jim Kaat had 4 cards at the end of his career and the beginning of the period my blog covers.  Gil Hodges and Tony Oliva retired well before my blog’s coverage – but interestingly both have side-by-side cards in the Turn Back the Clock subset from 1989.

  • Gil Hodges
  • Jim Kaat
  • Minnie Minoso
  • Tony Oliva

Only one player was inducted by the writers last year – Big Papi who got in on his first ballot with 77.9% of the vote.  Since my blog is currently through 2004, he’s got about 5 cards from the start of his career to add.

  • David Ortiz

Background!

The number of Hall of Famers in a given set has always been something that intrigued me.  I count the number of Hall of Famers for every new set I start, and post about it in my overview.  So, since there are now 3 new Hall of Famers to account for, I need to go back and update those posts.  In showing this stuff below, I will show the cumulative total as well.

First, some reminders.  I include all Hall of Famers from the set.  That includes someone like Johnny Bench who had a Turn Back the Clock card in the 1990 set.  I also include managers who were Hall of Fame players (Frank Robinson in 1984 Topps, or my personal favorite – Yogi Berra as an Astro coach on their 1987 Topps team leader card).  I also include player cards of guys who made the Hall of Fame as a manager (i.e., 1969 Topps Bobby Cox).  If you have a bronze plaque in Cooperstown and you’re in the set, I’m including you.

Without any further ado, here we go!

1980 Topps – 45 Hall of Famers

Johnny Bench, Bert Blyleven, George Brett, Rod Carew, Steve Carlton, Gary Carter, Andre Dawson, Dennis Eckersley, Rollie Fingers, Carlton Fisk, Goose Gossage, Rickey Henderson, Reggie Jackson, Fergie Jenkins, Jim Kaat, Willie McCovey, Paul Molitor, Joe Morgan, Jack Morris, Eddie Murray, Jim Palmer, Phil Niekro, Tony Perez, Gaylord Perry, Jim Rice, Nolan Ryan, Mike Schmidt, Tom Seaver, Ted Simmons, Ozzie Smith, Willie Stargell, Bruce Sutter, Don Sutton, Alan Trammell, Dave Winfield, Carl Yastrzemski, Robin Yount, Earl Weaver (manager), Tommy LaSorda (manager), Dick Williams (manager), Sparky Anderson (manager), Joe Torre (manager), Bobby Cox (manager), Tony LaRussa (manager), Lou Brock (HL)

  • The induction of Kaat increased this number by 1.

1981 Topps – 46 Hall of Famers

Gone (-2):  McCovey and Brock were gone after retiring

New (+3):  Whitey Herzog got a manager card when he was hired by St. Louis.  Rock Raines and Harold Baines got cards in the 1981 set as part of the Future Stars triple player cards.

  • The induction of Kaat increased this number by 1.

1982 Topps – 40 Hall of Famers

Gone (-8):  There was no manager subset in 1982, which accounts for the big drop – Weaver, LaSorda, Williams, Herzog, Anderson, Torre, Cox and LaRussa aren’t in this set.

New (+2):  Cal Ripken Jr. and Lee Smith both have rookie cards in this set.

  • The induction of Kaat increased this number by 1.

1983 Topps – 51 Hall of Famers

Gone (-1):  Willie Stargell retired and had his last card in 1982 (-1).

New (+12):  The manager subset came back, which led to 9 new cards of Hall of Famers – Weaver, LaSorda, Williams, Sparky, Herzog, Cox, Torre, LaRussa and Frank Robinson.  Additionally, Wade Boggs, Ryne Sandberg and Tony Gwynn entered the fray.

  • The induction of Kaat increased this number by 1. This is still the set with the most HOF-ers in my Lifetime Topps Project.

1984 Topps – 49 Hall of Famers

Gone (-2):  Earl Weaver had retired after the 1982 season, with no new Hall of Fame blood in this set.  Jim Kaat retired after 1983, so he could have had a card in this set but Topps didn’t include him.

Bench, Perry and Yastrzemski were only included in a subset card.

  • No adds from the 2022 class

1985 Topps – 45 Hall of Famers

Gone (-6):  Robinson was gone after his stint as the Giants manager was over, while Bench, Yaz, Perry, Palmer and Jenkins had also had their last player cards.

New (+2):  Kirby Puckett’s rookie card is in this set, and Yogi Berra had a card for his second (and controversial) stint as Yankee manager (+2).  When I started this blog, Puckett was the most recent rookie card of any Hall of Famer!

  • No adds from the 2022 class

1986 Topps – 45 Hall of Famers

Gone (-3):  Torre was fired as Braves manager in 1984 and wasn’t gone until this set.  Berra was fired as well, and Joe Morgan retired.

New (+3):  Earl Weaver was back as the O’s manager, and we had a Turn Back the Clock subset that got Willie Mays and Frank Robinson into the mix.

  • No adds from the 2022 class

1987 Topps – 43 Hall of Famers

Gone (-6):  Cox was no longer the Blue Jay skipper at this point, and Carew, Fingers and Tony Perez all retired. Robinson and Mays were gone from the TBC subset….

New (+4):  But Clemente and Yastrzemski replaced them.  Barry Larkin had his first card in this set, and Yogi Berra had the awesome TL card as coach of the Astros!

  • No adds from the 2022 class

1988 Topps – 41 Hall of Famers

Gone (-7):  Mr. October, Lefty and Tom Terrific and Earl Weaver all retired at this point.  Clemente, Yaz and Berra were gone from subsets .  

New (+5):  Maddux and Glavine had their first base Topps cards, and the subsets were a wash due to 3 new Cardinals – Bob Gibson and Stan Musial from the TBC subset, and Red Schoendienst being featured on the Cards Team Leader card.  

Phil Niekro made it only on the Record Breaker subset with his brother in this set.

  • No adds from the 2022 class

1989 Topps – 43 Hall of Famers

Gone (-7):  Sutton, Simmons, Niekro (RB), Williams (mgr), Schoendienst (TL), Musial (TBC), Gibson (TBC)

New (+9):  Roberto Alomar RC, Randy Johnson RC, Craig Biggio RC, John Smoltz RC, Hank Aaron (TBC), Brock (TBC), Gil Hodges (TBC), Tony Oliva (TBC) Frank Robinson (back as a manager)

  • As mentioned – Hodges and Oliva we’re in this year’s version of the TBC subset. So two new guys from the 2022 class.

1990 Topps – 43 Hall of Famers

Gone (-6):  2 relievers exited the set – Bruce Sutter and Goose Gossage (who would be back), and 4 guys from the TBC set.

New (+6)  Frank Thomas and Larry Walker had RC’s in the set, while Griffey Jr. and Edgar Martinez had their first regular Topps cards. Koufax and Bench were added to the TBC subset (Mike Schmidt had his only card in the TBC subset this year, but he had cards leading up to 1990 so this isn’t a change).

  • No adds from the 2022 class

1991 Topps – 41 Hall of Famers

Gone (-5):  Rice (retired), Herzog (retired), Schmidt, Bench, Koufax (the TBC set had ended its 5-year run)

New (+3):  Torre and Cox, both of whom got back in the managing saddle.  Chipper Jones had his first card via the 1st Round Draft Pick subset.

  • No adds from the 2022 class

1992 Topps – 45 Hall of Famers

Gone (-1):  Robinson (fired as Oriole manager)

New (+5):  Gossage (back after a stint in Japan).  Pudge and Bagwell are in this set – true rookies were in the Traded set from 1991, but for both these guys this is their first base Topps card.  Thome and Mussina are also in this set – they had cards in other products (not Topps Traded) in previous years, so this isn’t their rookie card.

  • No adds from the 2022 class

1993 Topps – 49 Hall of Famers

Gone (-1):  Gossage (retired for good this time)

New (+5):  Tony Perez (Reds manager), Pedro Martinez (first Topps card), Mike Piazza (first Topps card – Prospects card), Trevor Hoffman (first Topps card – Marlins card), Derek Jeter (RC)

  • No adds from the 2022 class

1994 Topps – 40 Hall of Famers (a mass exodus!)

Gone (-10):  Topps did away with manager cards in 1994, which meant no cards for Torre, LaRussa, Cox, Sparky, Perez and LaSorda.  Additionally, Blyleven, Carter and Fisk all retired. Jack Morris didn’t have a card despite pitching in both 1993 and 1994.  He did have a card in 1994 Topps Traded, and some cards in a few 1995 sets.

New (+1):  Hank Aaron (tribute)

  • No adds from the 2022 class

1995 Topps – 35 Hall of Famers (further depleted!)

Gone (-6):  Brett, Ryan and Yount (all retired for good).  Sandberg (retired temporarily).  Dawson (left out of the set, though he is in ’95 Traded).  Aaron (tribute).

New (+1):  Babe Ruth (tribute)

  • No adds from the 2022 class

1996 Topps – 36 Hall of Famers (an actual increase!)

Gone (-3):  Winfield (retired), Trammell (not included despite playing both 1995 and 1996), Ruth (tribute)

New (+4):  Mickey Mantle (tribute), Dawson (back after ’95 snub), Sandberg (back in baseball after a year-plus hiatus), Vladimir Guerrero (via a prospect card)

  • No adds from the 2022 class

1997 Topps – 33 Hall of Famers

Gone (-5):  Dawson, Puckett, Ozzie Smith (retired), Mantle (tribute), Lee Smith. Topps didn’t include Lee Smith in the flagship set after 1996 despite him pitching for 2 teams in 1996 and pitching in 25 games in 1997.

New (+2):  Jackie Robinson (tribute), Mariano Rivera (first Topps card)

  • No adds from the 2022 class

1998 Topps – 31 Hall of Famers

Gone (-5):  Murray, Sandberg (retired), Robinson (tribute), Henderson (snubbed – he even has an insert card in the product), Raines (also snubbed).

New (+3):  Roberto Clemente (tribute), Roy Halladay, David Ortiz (both first Topps cards via the prospects set).  Halladay and Ortiz are the latest first Topps flagship card of any HOFer .

  • The induction of Ortiz increased this number by 1.

1999 Topps – 29 Hall of Famers

Gone (-4):  Molitor, Eckersley (retired), Clemente (tribute), Baines (snubbed)

New (+2):  Nolan Ryan (tribute), Henderson (back after snub)

  • The induction of Ortiz increased this number by 1.

2000 Topps – 30 Hall of Famers

Gone (-2):  Nolan Ryan (tribute), David Ortiz (missing as he played mostly in the minors in 1999)

New (+3):  Hank Aaron (tribute), Raines & Baines (back with regular cards!)

  • No adds from the 2022 class

2001 Topps – 39 Hall of Famers

Gone (-2):  Wade Boggs (retired), Tim Raines (temporarily retired – but this was his last base Topps card)

New (+11):  Ortiz was back for good in 2001.  The manager subset was back, which meant new cards for Torre, Cox and LaRussa.  There was also a Golden Moments subset, which had new cards of Bill Mazeroski, Reggie Jackson, Jackie Robinson, Roberto Clemente, Nolan Ryan, Lou Brock and Carlton Fisk.

Hank Aaron’s Tribute card was gone in 2001, but he was still in the Golden Moments subset.

  • The induction of Ortiz increased this number by 1.

2002 Topps – 29 Hall of Famers

Gone (-11):  Cal Ripken & Harold Baines retired, and the Golden Moments subset was gone, which meant those cards of Mazeroski, Jackson, Robinson, Clemente, Ryan, Brock, Fisk and Aaron were gone.  Roy Halladay does not have any 2002 Topps cards except for Topps 206 – so there must have been some sort of contract dispute over his likeness that was resolved in time for 2003.

New (+1):  Tony Perez managed the Marlins at the end of 2002, and got a manager card in this set for it.

  • The induction of Ortiz increased this number by 1.

2003 Topps – 29 Hall of Famers

Gone (-2):  Tony Gwynn had retired in 2001, but still got a 2002 card.  He was gone from the set in 2003.  Perez was no longer a manager, so his card was gone as well.

New (+2):  Frank Robinson became the Expos manager in 2002, and got a card in this set.  Halladay was back in good graces with the card folks in Philly in 2003.

  • The induction of Ortiz increased this number by 1.

2004 Topps – 29 Hall of Famers

Gone (-1):  Rickey Henderson retired.

New (+1):  Mike Schmidt was included in a subset card along with Jim Thome.

  • The induction of Ortiz increased this number by 1.




RIP Gaylord Perry, 1938-2022

5 01 2023

Gaylord Perry was the second Hall of Famer to pass away in 2022.  Perry passed away about a month ago, on December 1st, at the age of 84.

Perry is most-remembered (by my generation and younger at least) as a crafty spitballer – but he was a far greater pitcher than he gets recognition for.  There was a legit argument that at the turn of the decade to the 1970’s he was the best pitcher in baseball.

Perry is one of the 2 most famous brother pitching combinations – only the Niekro brothers have more combined wins than these two.  Born in Williamston, NC, older brother Jim were nearly 3 years apart, but I think only 2 grades different.  They made a mean combination on the high school baseball diamond, pitching back-to-back shutouts to win a best-of-three state championship series.  Later, the two would spend a parts of two seasons together in Cleveland toward the end of Jim’s career.

Some sites credit Gaylord with playing a year at Campbell University, following his brother (would not have been at the same time) – but I’m not sure either way.  He was signed by the Giants organization in 1958, and made his Big League debut in 1962 for the eventual NL pennant winners.  He wasn’t particularly good his rookie season, though he did go 3-1 with a decent amount of time spent in the minors.  Soon after this, the Giants traded for Bob Shaw, who supposedly taught the spitball to Perry.  He had some ups and downs, but became a mainstay in San Francisco 2 years later, and in 1966 had a breakout season going 21-8 with a 2.99 ERA, becoming an All-Star for the first time.

From that point on, Perry went on a dominant decade of pitching that every time I look at I think how underappreciated it is.  From 1967-69 he didn’t make the All-Star game and was only 4 games over .500 on a good team – but he was also averaging 300 innings pitched and a 2.50 ERA.  I think he just had a little bit of poor luck with run support – and in 1970 that turned.  He went 23-13, leading the NL in wins and the Majors with 328 innings, and was runner-up to Bob Gibson in the NL Cy Young.  Gibson was the deserving candidate, but it would have been pretty cool if Perry could have pulled it off that year – his brother Jim (now with the Twins) was the winner on the American League side of the docket.  They were the first brothers to win 20 games in the same season.

In the 1971 season, Perry got the only playoff action of his career – winning the opening game of the series against Pittsburgh but getting shellacked for 7 runs in game 4 which eliminated San Francisco.  That was the end of his Giants career.  He was traded to the Indians in the offseason, and started out with a bang in Cleveland.  In 1972, Gaylord led the AL with 24 wins and 29 complete games, hurled 342+ innings, led the AL in WAR and his missed out on the ERA crown (1.92) by ,01 to Luis Tiant (who pitched half the innings).  He took home his first Cy Young, which made him and Jim the first brothers to both take home that honor.  Perry’s 1972 season is often overlooked because of the mediocrity he had behind him as far as run support – but many consider it one of the greatest seasons in history.

Perry wasn’t quite that good after that for Cleveland, but he was still very good and a workhorse who kept pumping out 300+ IP seasons.  Brother Jim did come back to his original team to team up with his brother for the 1974 season where they combined for 38 of the team’s 77 wins.  During alot of his time in Cleveland, Gaylord’s start were a story as managers from Billy Martin, Dick Williams to Ralph Houk repeatedly tried to catch him for doctoring the baseball.  He was never caught during this stretch, and from the book he wrote about it – he occasionally used it but moreso relied on it as gamesmanship since hitters thought he was throwing it.

After the first half of 1975 season, both brothers were shipped out of Cleveland after Gaylord butted heads with new player-manager Frank Robinson.  He pitched well but not great for the Rangers over the next 2+ seasons, but was traded to the Padres in 1978.  Like his first season in Cleveland – he delivered a Cy Young season going 21-6/2.73 over 260 innings.  Perry became the first pitcher to win the award in both leagues, and the third pitcher to win 20 games with 3 different teams.  That was something of a swan song, and he bounded around after that – going back to Texas, traded to the Yankees, a year in Atlanta, a year-plus in Seattle, then finishing his career in the second half of the 1983 season in Kansas City.  He won his 300th game in May of 1982 while pitching against what was then his former Yankees teammates.  He was the first 300-game winner in 19 years, though he was also started a bit of a waterfall for that mark over the next decade-plus.

Following the all-time strikeout leaders from Perry’s perspective is also pretty interesting.  For 56 years, Walter Johnson was the career MLB strikeout leader.  In the last start of his second Cy Young season In San Diego in 1978, Perry joined Johnson and Gibson as the third pitcher to cross 3,000 career strikeouts.  The next year, he passed Gibson and was second behind Johnson for the next couple years.  He did eventually pass Johnson by ~30 K’s – but he was never the all-time leader.  Nolan Ryan and Steve Carlton were hot on his heels; Ryan passed him at the end of the 1982 season and Carlton went by him in the beginning of the ’83 season.  All 3 of them passed the Big Train in 1983, but at the end of the season (and his career) Perry was 3rd.  Today he’s actually still 8th all-time.

To try to quantify his greatness – I checked his stats from 1966 to 1978, a 13-year stretch from his first great season with the Giants to that Cy Young year in San Diego.  Pitching in baseball evolved incredibly over that period, but Perry was remarkably consistent.

243-176, 2.82, 2,604 K, 263 CG, 48 SHO, 3,837 IP

That’s an average of 295 innings per year, and winning almost 19 games a year for mostly 2nd division teams.

Perry’s HOF teammate list must be incredible.  Just going down his BB-Ref page and without looking too closely, he played with Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal, Orlando Cepeda, Frank Robinson (even if they didn’t get along), Fergie Jenkins, Dave Winfield, Rollie Fingers, Ozzie Smith, Goose Gossage, Phil Niekro and George Brett.

I won’t start naming too many names, but the characters of MLB who aren’t HOF-ers is maybe even a more impressive list.  He played with Bump Wills (son) after pitching against father Maury many times in the 60’s.  He played with Bobby Bonds (father of Barry), and Sandy Alomar Sr, (father of HOF-er Roberto).  He played with Oscar Gamble at 3 different stops.  He played with MLB TV guy Harold Reynolds early in his career.  Plus all the guys his brother played with.  I can imagine when Gaylord Perry went to a baseball event – he knew EVERYBODY!

RIP to an underrated star of baseball.





RIP Bruce Sutter, 1953-2022

3 01 2023

We lost 2 Hall of Famers in 2022.  It had been over a year and a half since a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame had passed away when legendary Henry Aaron passed away early in 2021.  Disruptive reliever Bruce Sutter died in October 2022, a few months before his 70th birthday.

Sutter was a prime contributor to the revolution in how relievers were used.  To explain how he got to making this impact, you have to start pretty early in his story.  He was from near Lancaster, Pennsylvania and was a 3-sport star at Donegal High School.  He was born in 1953 and must have been moved forward a grade at some point because he was drafted by the Senators in 1970 after his senior year of high school.  But they hadn’t realized he was only 17 and weren’t allowed to sign him.  So he went to school at Old Dominion (I can’t find if he actually played baseball there), but dropped out less than a year in and played semipro ball back in Lancaster.  He was signed by the Cubs in September 1971 but suffered a pinched nerve 2 games into Rookie ball in 1972 and had surgery.

When he reported to Spring Training the next year, he found that his previous arsenal was ineffective after recovery.  This ended up becoming his ticket to the Big Leagues and, ultimately, to Cooperstown.  Fred Martin, a longtime minor leaguer with some MLB pedigree was now a coach in the Cubs minor league systems.  Martin had used the split finger as a change of pace pitch throughout his career, and taught it to Sutter.  Bruce struggled at first with the pitch and his A-ball numbers in ’73 didn’t foretell anything close to a Hall of Fame career.  But he was moved to the Cubs’ Key West A-level affiliate the next year and started to produce as a reliever.  He was promoted to AA (Midland, TX) halfway through the season and finished both stops with an ERA under 1.50.

He played the full 1975 season in Midland, then was moved up to AAA in 1976 and then got called up to the Big Leagues where he wasn’t the main closer but did save 10 games.  He became the Cubs main closer the next season, saving 31 games despite missing 3 weeks for injury, and putting together a dominant campaign with a 1.34 ERA over 107 innings.  He was very good again in 1978, though became ineffective in mid-August.  He came back in 1979 and became the third reliever to win the Cy Young award, saving 37 games with a 2.22 ERA.  His 37 saves tied the National League record at the time and was one behind the MLB record.

He led the league in saves again in 1980, but the Cubs had fallen from contending and they traded Sutter to the Cardinals.  There he had 25 saves in the strike-shortened MLB season, but missed out on the playoffs due to the broken parts of the season.  Sutter was 5th in the Cy Young voting.  The next year, he led the majors with 36 saves and posted a 2.90 ERA and garnered 3rd in the Cy Young voting.  He pitched 7.2 innings in the 7 game World Series that year – winning a game and saving 2 others (and pitching poorly in a 4th).  Sutter came on for the last 2 innings of game 7 and struck out Gorman Thomas swinging in the bottom of the 9th to clinch the World Championship over the Brewers.

Sutter wasn’t as effective in 1983, saving only 23 games and posting an ERA over 4.  He seemed to improve in the second half of the season, and in 1984 came back for one last hurrah with the best season of his career.  He broke the NL saves record he had shared with 2 other pitchers, and tied Dan Quisenberry’s MLB record with 45 saves that year.  He actually got into game 162 with a chance to break the record, but blew the save.  All told, it was his best year, pitching a career high 122.2 innings and he led the NL in appearances (63) for the only time in his career.

He signed with Atlanta as a free agent after that season, but was never the same as shoulder inflammation flared up.  He missed the end of 1986 and the entire 1987 season, and came back in 1988 but pitched poorly.  Sutter did finish 14 saves, the last coming on September 9th and making him the 3rd pitcher to notch 300 on his career (Rollie Fingers and Goose Gossage – who had just saved #300 a month earlier).

Along with fellow HOF-ers Gossage and Fingers, Sutter really created the closer role.  He would come in to finish the game, usually for multiple innings, but also in higher leverage situations where the Cubs or Cardinals didn’t necessarily have the lead.  He was also the first pitcher to use the split-finger fastball, which was en vogue for the 80s and 90s but isn’t used as much today.

It took 13 years to get him elected to the Hall – he wouldn’t have that much time under the current rules – but I always thought he should be in.  He led his league in saves 5 times, the majors 3 times, and was instrumental in redefining the closer role.  Hard to tell the story of baseball in the 70’s and 80’s without mentioning Fingers and Sutter.

Of note from the annals of this blog – Sutter tied Pete Rose as the only players having 3 cards in the 1985 Topps set.





RIP Hank Aaron, 1934-2021

24 03 2021

As an irregular and irrational baseball fan my whole life, I can’t describe the sadness I felt when I learned Hank Aaron died.  In the world of twitter today, it was reported outlets early the morning of January 22nd.  I remember hoping it wasn’t true – ESPN, CNN/SI and other major outlets were silent for over an hour that morning.  I thought maybe it was a mistake –  that Atlanta paper/website surely will go out of business.  In all the sadness brought by COVID-19, I knew that his last tweets from his account was about 10 days or two weeks earlier of him getting the COVID-19 vaccine.  I thought about the misinformation that would spread about COVID vaccines.

But mostly I thought about a hero who I’d never seen play but meant so much to my baseball fandom.

Alas, the first reporters were correct and at some level were just doing their job.  To report the passing of a legend, and more importantly, an American hero.

Hank Aaron is the first name in the baseball encyclopedia.  Just before his brother, Tommy Aaron.  It’s fitting, for so long he was the record holder of the most important record in the game.  Once that record was broken, it seemed to lose much of its luster.  In a way it was the baseball’s Berlin wall, the last abdication of the throne of America’s game to the NFL.

I’m still at a loss for words about Aaron’s death.  I met him for about 20 seconds getting an autograph.  I’ve pulled an autograph of his from a Topps pack.  Both were when he was older and clearly couldn’t pen a gem like he could in his youth or middle age.  In a way, that was all the more special.  Aaron’s beauty was always that he was human in a way that Babe Ruth (or comic book Bonds) never seemed.  When he died, he was not the greatest living player – that would belong to Mays or Bonds depending on how you want to consider PEDs.  But he was the game’s biggest icon, and a month later I still don’t feel like going through his biography on SABR like some of the other players who’ve passed away.  Pointing out that he won the 1957 MVP feels fairly insignificant.

I’d say this – Tom Stanton has a great book about the build up to Aaron’s record breaking homer to pass Ruth.  I plan on reading that again this year (and I never read a book twice!).

Rest in Peace Hank, you had a hammer and you used it to shape our country for the best.





RIP Don Sutton, 1945-2021

21 03 2021

Less than 2 weeks after Tommy LaSorda died, another Dodgers great passed away when Don Sutton died on January 19th after a long battle with cancer.  After Seaver and Niekro – Sutton was the third 300 game winner of the past year.

Sutton was a model of consistency.  He came up to the Dodgers’ big league club in 1966 at the age of 21 and went 12-12 over 225 innings for the team.  He was the 4th starter for the NL champions – but there was a lot to say for being that reliable for a top notch team.  He overlapped that one season with Sandy Koufax – Koufax (who is only 9 years older than Sutton), was finishing up the most dominant pitching stretch in modern history.  He would retire after the Dodgers were swept in the World Series by the Baltimore Orioles.  Sutton didn’t get to pitch in that World Series – and the disappointment at the game’s greatest stage became something of a theme for this all-time great.

That aside, Sutton became a workhorse like quite a few of the great pitchers of that era.  He threw over 200 innings for 20 of the next 21 seasons – only missing the 1981 strike season when he pitched 159 innings and would have almost assuredly met that mark in a full season.  Even in 1987 at the age of 42, he missed the 200 mark by a mere 8.1 innings.

I found an interesting (dubious) record for Sutton – he has the most at bats in MLB history without a homer.

Back to the postseason.  What struck me with Sutton was how unlucky he seamed to be as far as getting a World Series ring.  He lit the minor leagues on fire in 1965, going 23-7 at A and AA level but wasn’t called up when the Dodgers won the World Series.  The next year he was debatably the Dodgers 2nd best pitcher but didn’t get to pitch in the World Sereis – with the Dodgers down 3-0, Walter Alston passed him over for Don Drysdale for game 4 (Drysdale pitched great in a 1-0 loss, the Dodgers issue was their hitting which scored 2 runs in the whole series).

The Dodgers made 3 more World Series in his tenure with the team – losing 4-1 to Oakland in 1974, then dumping back to back series to the Yankees in 1977 and 1978.  After 15 seasons with the Dodgers, Sutton left via free agency to join the Astros in 1981 – and of course, LA won the World Series.  In 1982, he was traded to the Brewers, who lost to the Cardinals 4-3 (in fairness, he contributed greatly to that loss).  In 1985 he was with the fabled Angels who lost the ALCS in 7 games to the Boston Red Sox.

He went back to the Dodgers in 1988 for his last season, and though he didn’t finish the season there, he technically notched that World Series ring.  He retired as (and still is) the Dodgers all-time leader in just about every cumulative statistic – though Clayton Kershaw could pass a few of those (or at least strikeouts).

RIP to an underrated pitcher!

 





RIP Tommy LaSorda, 1927-2021

19 03 2021

It didn’t take long for 2021 to continue the trend of us losing Hall of Famers.  On January 7th, after years of scares from heart troubles, a heart attack claimed the life of former Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda.

Lasorda’s baseball life was incredible.  If he never went into managing, he would have been footnoted as a great minor leaguer who just didn’t make it at the next level.  He won 136 games in the minor leagues – 110 of them at the AAA level.  He’s the Montreal Royals (the Dodgers’ top farm team from the 40s and 50s) all-time leader in wins and is in the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.  Yet he pitched in a total of 26 games at the Major League level and never notched a pitching victory: 0-4, 6.48 ERA, 37 K, 56 walks and 53 hits in 58 innings.  Clearly he had good stuff that he couldn’t control.  He did get one save!  Though I think that may have been retroactive – before MLB actually called it a stat.

Lasorda may have been the victim of bad timing, he lost 2 years (1946-47) while enlisted in the Army.  But he also was part of a great organization in the Dodgers.  He threw pitches to Roy Campanella.  He was on the same staff of Sandy Koufax and Don Newcombe in the Majors and with Don Drysdale in the Minors.  He was teammates with Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider, Pee Wee Reese, Gil Hodges and (with the KC Athletics) Enos Slaughter. He pitched (albeit poorly) for the the “Dem Bums” team that ended the Dodgers World Series drought.

His managerial record is stellar.  1,599 wins, 2 World Series wins and 2 more appearances.  If you just looked at those 20 years at the helm for the Dodgers I don’t think that would make him the slam dunk Hall of Famer that he ended up being.  From 1948 on, with the exception of 1956 when he was with the A’s and Yankees organizations, he was a Dodger.  70+ years affiliated with the same organization in just about every capacity (minor leaguer, major leaguer, scout, minor league manager, major league coach, major league manager, front office executive and consultant).  And the pizazz and general fun that he was known for, which is well captured in the card above.  He lived a good, long life, and though the Dodgers are the reigning champs – they will miss not having Lasorda as a part of their organization for the first time since they moved to Los Angeles.

RIP Tommy Lasorda – 1927-2021.





RIP Phil Niekro, 1939-2020

11 03 2021

Back to catching up on a few more of these posts.  The next Hall of Famer who passed away doesn’t hit home for me like Joe Morgan did, but Phil Niekro’s passing does make me sad how many 300 game winners have passed away.  I am guessing Randy Johnson will be the last of that club.

Since I came into card-collecting age in the late 80’s – my cardboard memories of Phil Niekro are not with the team where he spent the overwhelming majority of his career.  In fact, the 1988 Topps Record Breaker subset (2nd in the middle row) with his brother is easily the card I think of first for him.

But he spent 20 (plus 1 additional start) of his 24 seasons with the Braves, and was a phenomenal knuckler who ate up a ton of innings for some pretty bad Braves teams.  In his career, he only pitched in 2 playoff games – 13 years apart the Braves made the 1969 and 1982 NLCS – both times swept by the eventual World Champions.  He went 0-1 with an OK 3.86 ERA over 14 innings in his 2 starts.

He was born in Blaine, Ohio, just a little past the Ohio River from West Virginia and his family moved a mile or so east to Lansing shortly after he was born.  His father, a coal miner who played some baseball in his free time, taught him the knuckleball when he was about 8 years old.  Phil practiced the pitch with his best friend growing up – John Havlicek.  Pretty amazing that in about 6 years – considering Phil, his younger brother Joe and Havlicek – the same tiny town of 500 or so could produce 26,000 NBA points and 539 MLB wins!

They attended Bridgeport High School one town over, Havlicek went on to play basketball for Ohio State while Phil was signed to play in the Braves minor league system.  Here’s a great article on Niekro and Havlicek growing up.

Niekro struggled at first, nearly getting cut from class D ball.  For comparison, Havlicek (despite going to 4 years of college and being a year younger) made it to the NBA 2 years ahead of Niekro, and Phil didn’t come up to MLB for good for another 3 years after that.  Some of that was his knuckle ball – it was hard to catch.  Some of that was that he spent 1963 away from pro ball in military service.  And finally, in 1964 when he did come up as a reliever, he was soon sent back down because the Braves realized he was good enough to become a starter.  After two more years of back and forth – he came up for good in 1967, going 11-9 with a 1.87 ERA (his lone ERA title).

From there, he became a steady workhorse for the Braves.  He went 23-13 in 1969, winning the division clinching game for the Braves that year and notching a second place Cy Young finish (which meant he got 1 vote – Tom Seaver was the runaway winner).  He has been quoted saying that was his best year – but I think he’s selling his seasons in the late 70’s short.  He probably deserved the Cy Young Award in 1978, when he threw 334 innings (74 more than winner Gaylord Perry).  But the Braves offense was awful and writer’s of the time weren’t going to reward a 19-18 record.

Here’s some highlights of looking through his statistical accomplishments – and I must say, I didn’t realize how good he was!

  • Niekro was the last pitcher to throw over 310 innings in a season (342 in 1979), and only Steve Carlton (304 the next year) has thrown 300 since.  Those 342 innings pitched were in his age 40 season!
  • From 1977 to 1979 he averaged 336 innings pitched per season, and over a 7 year span from 1974 to 1980 he averaged over 300 IP!
  • His 5,400 innings pitched place him 4th all-time, and the 3 guys ahead of him (Cy Young, Pud Galvin, Walter Johnson) all pitched before 1928.
  • In that 1979 season he led the National League in both wins and losses (I believe he’s the only player to do this).  He went 21-20.  Niekro and Wilbur Wood (24-20 in 1973), are the only pitchers to have 20 wins and losses in the same season since the Dead Ball era.  Nobody has had more than 34 decisions since that season.
  • Niekro won his 300th game at the age of 46 – throwing a shutout for the Yankees and becoming the oldest pitcher in history to throw a shutout (Jamie Moyer has since eclipsed that record).
  • Niekro is incredibly underrated, in part because his teams were really bad.  His career WAR of 97 is 6th since the dead ball era – behind only Clemens, Grove, Seaver, Maddux and Johnson.  That puts him ahead of Warren Spahn, Steve Carlton, Nolan Ryan.  He is the all-time leader in WAR for the Braves since they moved to Atlanta – and only Spahn and Aaron have a higher WAR with the Braves franchise.  That puts him ahead of Mathews, Chipper, Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz, Murphy, and Andruw Jones.  Yet it took the BBWAA 5 tries to elect him!

Of course, you can’t think of the older Niekro without mentioning his younger brother.  Joe, who died 14 years before Phil, was also a great pitcher.  He didn’t use the knuckleball as much his brother at first, but eventually started to after he joined his brother in Atlanta in the 1973 season.  The 539 wins they accumulated are the most of a brother duo – and they did get to play 2 seasons in Atlanta together and the end of the 1985 season in New York.

RIP to an underrated legend!





RIP Joe Morgan, 1943-2020

16 02 2021

This one hit home.  As a big Reds fan, how could it not.  I’ve got a couple things autographed by the whole Big Red Machine, and having those makes me acutely aware Joe Morgan was unfortunately the first player from the Big 8 to pass away. 

Though some didn’t like him as a broadcaster, his impact and influence on the game of baseball was undeniable.  He was active as a member of the Hall of Fame’s board.

Morgan was born in Texas but moved to Oakland with his family at the age of 5.  After being a standout athlete in multiple sports, he went to Oakland Community College and did well enough to get signed by the Houston Colt 45’s.  He was a standout in A-ball in 1963 and in AA-ball in 1964, and got cups of coffee with the Colts both years. 

I always enjoyed that his dual player rookie card with Sonny Jackson has the Colt 45’s logo – they switched to the Astros by the time he got his first solo card in 1966.

 

That 1964 season was the last time he’d play in the minors – in 1965 he was Houston’s starting 2nd baseman and was runner up for the Rookie of the Year award.  By just about every metric but RBI he was more deserving than Jim Lefebvre of the Dodgers that year.

Morgan was a very good player for 7 seasons in Houston.  He made 2 All-Star teams and probably deserved to make 2 or 3 more.  He was traded to the Reds – along with fellow BRM’er Cesar Geronimo – in a blockbuster for Lee May and Tommy Helms.  The rest, as they say was history.  Morgan’s next 6 years was the best stretch of baseball by a second baseman in the history of the game.  The Big Red Machine was ripe with incredible players.  As was Morgan – Bench, Rose and Foster were all MVP winners during their career.  And Tony Perez was a fellow Hall of Famer, while Davey Concepcion was a borderline HOF-er and Cesar Geronimo and Ken Griffey Sr were perennial all-stars.

But there’s something to be said for being the best player on the best team.  And while the Big Red Machine was a thing from roughly 1970 through 1977 – they are one of two teams in the argument for the best of all time because of the 1975 and 1976 seasons.  And those were the two years that Morgan – despite being a sabermetric darling when sabermetrics didn’t exist – won his two MVPs.  Reciting his statistics probably doesn’t do him justice, but I’ll say a few things:

  • his OBP was .456 over those 2 championship seasons in 1975 and 1976
  • his baseball-reference WAR from 1972 to 1976 averaged 9.5, which for reference is a little better than Mike Trout’s best 5 year stretch.
  • in 1972 (Bench) and 1973 (Rose) when his teammates won the award, every site I can find considers Morgan the better player on that team.  In 1974 Mike Schmidt should have been the MVP, and Morgan should have been second – but most metrics have Morgan as the best position player in baseball for 4 out of 5 years and the second best the other season.  The only players I can think of who can claim that kind of a peak are Ruth, Bonds and maybe Wagner, Cobb or Trout.  Three of those guys were way before MLB expansion and integration.  And only Wagner played the infield.
  • His batting stance and the dipping right elbow was cool AF

Morgan was greatly appreciated during his career, but hindsight shows us he was actually underappreciated because the world didn’t understand the value of getting on base.  And he had a .392 career OBP despite playing a large part of his career in eras that were very defense-leaning.

His broadcasting on Sunday Night Baseball and other avenues has been a big factor in how people viewed him in the latter part of his career.  He was something of punching bag in a prominent passage of the book Moneyball, which is funny because the book at the same time points out he was underrated as a player.  He probably had a little bit of a “get off my lawn” leaning as a broadcaster, but I always enjoyed him.  Maybe because I knew he was on my team.  Those fire Joe Morgan websites were always a bit much (actually a lot much) to me.I mention above that I have a couple autographed Big Red Machine items.  I got those autographs when I was quite a bit younger and he was always friendly in the setting.  I believe he cared about fans of baseball, and I don’t think the narrative that arose that he knew more than everyone else was fair.

Regardless of all that, I think he got his due after the fact, deservedly so.  He was well-respected in the game and had a big influence on the Hall of Fame in his later years.  His health had been deteriorating in the past decade or so, but I was so sad to hear he passed away.  Pete Rose and Johnny Bench are probably the 2 greatest Reds just because of the pure number of seasons they spent with the team, but Joe Morgan had the best stretch of any Reds player.  I always viewed the best teams in history this way.  Only two teams had multiple guys who could claim legit argument as the best player at their position.  The 1927 Yankees had Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, but the Big Red Machine had Bench and Morgan at their peak – but then Rose, Perez, Foster and 3 other All-Stars as well.  I’d go with the guys in Riverfront.

Rest in Peace, Joe!