One of the aspects of collecting we always stress is how cool it is to have tangible reminders of a player’s career that we can hold in our hands. I like to say that certain vintage cards “speak to me” because of the great memories they invoke.
Sometimes the player might be long forgotten except for his name. I remember how the Expos public address announcer had his own unique way to say “John Boccabella”. I also recall how he inspired Lou Brock’s funny “Broccabella” headgear.
Jimmy Wynn’s cards recall his great nickname, “The Toy Cannon”. Wynn had incredible power for his size. As we showed you a few months ago, there is a great YouTube clip of him hitting a homer at Crosley Field in Cincinnati which ended up on the highway beyond the stadium.
Jerry Coleman’s cards are happily owned by Yankees fans but also by those whose memories of him are as a beloved Padres announcer.
Who doesn’t look Tom Seaver’s 1969 Topps card and immediately think “Amazin’ Mets”?
Not every player who might be memorable in some way was lucky enough to have a card, though. There’s video of a 1979 Braves-Dodgers spring training game and I happened to watch a little bit of it recently. While it was really cool to see many of our favorite players from the late 1970’s and early 1980’s again, I was caught by the mention of Mike Macha who was handling third base duties for the Atlanta Braves. Who? Wasn’t Bob Horner the Braves’ third baseman in ’79?
Horner had burst upon the scene in 1978 and was the NL Rookie of the Year hitting 23 homers in little over half the year. He was just 21 and his agent had filed a grievance over his contract. The Braves were not about to hand the farm to a player with less than a full season under his belt. Macha was one of several guys Atlanta used at third base while negotiations dragged on. As you may have surmised, Macha had a very short major league career and never was awarded the honor of being on a Topps card (or any other major league card). Seeing his name and listening to the broadcast, I realized he had no real easily attainable cards and that’s kind of a shame.
There are some other fascinating tidbits I gleamed by listening to that same game, though. The announcers told us to watch young Dave Stewart who was just sent down to the minors because he seemed to have some promise. It took about eight extra years for that promise to be fulfilled but Stewart eventually became an ace with one of the most baleful stares in major league history.
The other tidbit was Pete Guerrero was the late inning substitute for Steve Garvey. Yes, they all called him Pete and no one would consistently call him by his given name, Pedro. Either way all of those players have plenty of cards and unlike Mr. Macha we have easy ways of remembering them.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, you can look at a card of a guy like Ellis Valentine and have memories of the Montreal Expos and his searing throws from right field to third base.
I did not grow up in the 1950’s but cards were even more important back then because fewer games were televised and kids who didn’t live near a big league ballpark could only imagine what players looked like in color even if they were able to catch a few games on TV. They practiced Mickey Mantle‘s batting stance, giggled about Don Mossi’s ears, imagined themselves at Ebbets Field while gazing at the 1957 Topps Brooklyn Dodgers or dreamed about the bonus baby money handed out to Tom “Money Bags” Qualters. And while everyone wanted to be Teddy Ballgame, some were just as happy to be Harry “Suitcase” Simpson for perhaps we saw his card, learned his nickname and grew an appreciation for how he performed on the diamond.
The era you call your own doesn’t matter and the specific memories are exclusively yours. For all of us, though, nothing beats those little pieces of cardboard for bringing them back.