With the great reaction we received from some of our favorite 1964 Rookie Stars cards last week, I figured we could do a quick follow up and write about some of my favorite cards from the 1969 Topps set. This time, I’m not just limiting myself to a small subset but roaming through a set with over 700 different possible topics to write about. I’ve discussed one or two of these in some way before but they are still among my personal favorites.
We’ll begin with the 1969 Padres Rookie Stars #304 that features Clarence “Cito” Gaston’s rookie card along with a fellow named Bill Davis, who had become a sort of ‘annual rookie’. Believe it or not, that ’69 Topps card marked the fifth consecutive– and mercifully final– season he would be pictured as a “Rookie Star”. You can pick this one up for under $5 in nice shape.
Those five years in a row is some sort of record but he was not even the last player to have made multiple appearances as a prospect in that set. For a couple bucks, you can get a copy of the third Lou Piniella ‘Rookie Stars’ card of the 1960s, this one showing him as a square-jawed member of the new Seattle Pilots. Well, according to the famed baseball book Ball Four, Lou upset the Seattle management and they were only too happy to dump him to the Kansas City Royals, the other 1969 expansion team.
Talk about a move that backfired. Lou would win Rookie of the Year in 1969 and springboard to a long baseball career as a player, manager and announcer. But in 1969, the thought of Lou Piniella becoming a big enough star that he’d get his own commercial for (ooh la la) Sassoon Jeans, was inexplicable.
Jon Warden came up with the Detroit Tigers in 1968 and got off to such a lucky start that by April 20 he had already won three games. As it developed, he was the only Tigers pitcher to win three games in April (including 31 game winner Denny McLain). Talk about having a great trivia fact to win a bar bet. I would say even in Detroit, you could probably win some bets with that fact. Despite a stint in the National Guard, Warden had a 4-1 record, 11 saves, and 3.62 ERA.
At the end of the season, the Tigers, who won the World Series, left Warden unprotected and the Royals snapped him up in the expansion draft. Hampered by arm problems, he’d never return to the majors. His only major league card is with the Royals, a team he never played for. Blessed with a great sense of humor, Warden has been a popular speaker in the Baseball Alumni Association and carries a copy of the Baseball Encyclopedia with him. As of 2010, it had been signed by over 1,200 players.
Late in the 1969 set there was a card of Johnny Podres who was making a comeback with the San Diego Padres. Yes, Podres played with the Padres. There was something neat about a 1950’s World Series hero trying to stay in baseball until the 1970’s.
With this stint Padres—I mean Podres– became the last active major leaguer who had won a World Series MVP during the 1950’s and his card was a neat link back to the Brooklyn Dodger days. By the 1970 set only Bob Aspromonte and Johnny Roseboro remained and Aspromonte became the last Brooklyn Dodger to don a major league uniform. But at the start of the 1969 season, we were hoping Johnny would thrive in San Diego just for his name.
Baseball cards can be cruel and there exists no better evidence than card #294, Jim Lemon. In big cartoon letters, accompanied by a cartoon character with a suitcase, came word that Lemon had indeed been let go in January, which was apparently too late to pull him from the planned series but not too late to tell the sad story. Since Lemon never managed again in the majors, that would be his final card and what a bizarre way to end a card career.
And we’ll conclude this tour with #342, Angels’ outfielder Bubba Morton, who was once Hank Aaron’s roommate with the Milwaukee Braves and later became the first black head coach in any sport at the University of Washington.
Really, though, I just love nearly 50 years later, the idea of some player willing to be called “Bubba” throughout his career. Morton was what today we would call a professional hitter and a solid defender but nicknames are one reason why we love our old cards.
Would you rather be a Bubba or a Boog?