A week ago today, the Texas Rangers announced that manager Ron Washington was stepping aside to deal with a “personal issue”. In politics as in sports, when something is announced on a Friday evening, that usually means the story is designed to be publicized as little as possible. Now, in the world of 2014 with the Internet and the constant 24/7 news cycles this is harder to pull off then dong that would have been even 20 years ago. However, we are not here to talk about why a stunning announcement was made on a Friday night with just about three weeks left in the baseball season.
The Rangers have always had interesting managerial stories. There is that famed week in 1977, when Frank Lucchesi was let go during the season in order to be replaced by Eddie Stanky. At that time, Stanky was a successful college coach and former major league manager, who wanted to come back for one final major league run. However, after just one game, Stanky decided the Rangers were not for him and went back to finish his career at South Alabama. The Rangers had four different guys managing them in the space of a week, which became part of trivia lore. The well-traveled Dock Ellis played for seven different managers during the course of the 1977 season.
That was the first escapade for the Rangers but was nearly topped just a few years later when Don Zimmer was fired. However, Zimmer was asked to stay on for a few days until Darrell Johnson could replace him as the manager. Yes, that is correct. The fired manager had to stay with the team to close out a few games until the new manager could take over. Of course, a few years before that, Johnson was replaced by Zimmer as the Red Sox manager.
Forty-five years ago this season, the Rangers were the Washington Senators. The guy who had the manager’s job as the calendar turned from 1968 to ’69 was Jim Lemon, one of those interchangeable slow-footed power hitting 1950’s outfield types who was best known for blasting three homers in a game off of future Hall of Fame pitcher Whitey Ford. What made the game more interesting was President Dwight D Eisenhower was in attendance.
With all that, one would normally think that’s what you’d see on the back cartoon, but sadly for Jim, it wasn’t. The card back states: “Jim was relieved of his managerial duties on January 29th.” Topps issued a card for Manager Jim Lemon who wasn’t really a manager anymore and so the door opened for the second Senators manager card in the same Topps set.
It had been announced that Ted Williams had become the new Senators manager, which was interesting since Williams often had struck deals with rival card companies Bowman and Fleer during the last decade of his playing career. However, there were no competitors for Topps in 1969 and in the sixth series we were treated to a card saying “Ted Shows How” where he was giving Mike Epstein some batting tips. The card is less than $25 on eBay.
Epstein himself has an interesting place in baseball history and helps to show how much things have changed over the years. The Orioles already had Boog Powell in the Epstein role and thus needed to trade him or bury him in the minors for years. Today, Epstein would be the #1 prospect for a team and be dealt for a star but in 1967 was traded for a pitcher named Pete Richert.
With all of that out of the way, Topps then finally gave Ted Williams his first card by himself in the final 1969 series and even graced him with the 650 number. In those days, when cards had a final number of 50 that usually meant it was a star or superstar. You can own a very nice one for less than $40 on eBay or pay a little more for a high grade example.
Williams would have four more cards before ending his active baseball participant career with his 1972 Topps card. But for Jim Lemon, the note he was relieved of duties is a sidebar to the Topps return of one Theodore Samuel Williams, the last player to hit .400.