Friday, December 31, 2010

Willie, Mickey, Harmon & "The Marv": How Marvin Miller Altered The 1968 Topps Set

Mays & Mantle were past their peak / ready to retire,
but Harmon's finest hours were yet to come, post '68.
Chico couldn't pinch himself hard enough: "How'd I get in a
picture with these guys?" Latin rhythms, indeed...

Ah, the serendipitous, weird and woolly circumstances of the origins of certain Topps baseball cards.  Cards #480 and #490 from that wild and historic summer could also be titled "Chico and The Men," or "Three Stars En Fuego," respectively (to mirror the incendiary, messy themes in matters political and cultural).

The latter, as any All-Star game buff should know, alludes to the near-Death Valley conditions at roasty, toasty Busch Stadium in St. Louis at the 1966 Game, where these two portraits originated.  In the tilt that saw the last AS Game appearance of Sandy Koufax, spectators were being transported out on stretchers owing to heat exhaustion. It may be apocryphal, but it's said that Joe Torre melted into the turf that day, not to be unearthed until 1969, during which time he had been traded to St. Louis from the Atlanta Braves.

Twin's catcher Earl Battey picks up gear, disconsolately
leaves field after Maury Wills' hit drives home 
Tim McCarver with the 1966 game winner.
Why the use of two-year old shots, like the above All-Star game shots of Harmon Killebrew and Tony Oliva with other stars of the game? Marvin Miller, the newly appointed head of the Major League Baseball Players Association, had urged the players to reject having their pictures taken anew in 1967, as a means of gaining leverage against the Topps company. That boycott is documented most excellently here at this SABR Cards post.  Topps had signed players as minor leaguers for the extravagant fee of $5, which locked them into binding contracts paying only $125 a year once they became major leaguers.

Those gravy-sucking pigs!

Marvin Miller: a cool cucumber - even while being told by
Joel Shorin what he could do with his proposal.

 But beyond that, Miller mostly wanted the union to get a lucrative slice of the profits from Topps, with an eye to increasing pensions, etc. Upon hearing Miller's pitch, Topps President Joel Shorin simply responded "I do not see the muscle in your position." How power and monopolies corrupt even the best of us! But after the players banded together, Miller's ploy worked. As described at Dean's Baseball Cards:

 "Shorin eventually caved to Miller’s demands.  The newly negotiated contract required Topps to pay each player $250 (double the previous $125) per year and, more importantly, Topps would pay the Players’ Association 8% of sales up to $4 million and another 10% after that.  The way that Topps compensated the players had changed forever..."

No, this wasn't an attempt to showcase
new Twin Ron Perranoski's 'do. Topps
just didn't have any thing else to offer,
following the relievers trade from the
Dodgers in exchange for Zoilo Versalles
and Mudcat Grant. At least it was better
than all those putrid black cap shots...

...such as that used for Manager
Cal Ermer and scores of players.
Topps had to scramble with this

one that seems to picture him in his
former employ (from the late '50's
no less) of the Detroit Tigers.

(Special thanks to for letting me plunder and pillage their vintage Perranoski & Ermer stock. And to myself for taking the time and extraordinary human effort to scan and display featured cards #480 & #490 from my own arsenal)So, say what you want about Miller increasing greed, avarice, his later disruption of team rosters with the movement of free agents, causing the downfall of the Soviet Union, or creating mass halitosis through the availability of more Red Man Chewing tobacco in locker rooms - the 1968 Topps set owes him some credit for indirectly creating some monuments to a couple of classic Minnesota Twins players.

Happy New Years - May 2011 See Your Taters Fly Far! - TT

Friday, December 17, 2010

Ghosts of Twins Team Photos Past: The 1981 Spring TrainingTeam Picture!

Ah-ha, so the Twins Twinkler is not AWOL. Can't believe...this is my 1st December post! The rigors of snow removal, and participating in Christmas Choirs (which - SUPER BUMMER! -  never included the Win! Twins! theme song in performance) have sadly reduced my time for nurturing our little museum of Twins past.

OK, now pay attention to the prose, not the ho's!

Hopefully, this amounts to a nice exercise in beginning scanner use 101. This photo has to be counted as interesting, and telling at the same time.  Where's Hrbek? Where's Gaetti? Discoursing in the men's room on the relative merits of Jaclyn Smith versus Morgan Fairchild? Negative, as they didn't even have invites to spring training. Frank Viola wouldn't be drafted by the Twins until June 8 in the 2nd round (the 11th pick of the '81 amateur draft), Kirby Puckett wouldn't be drafted until January of '82 (in the 1st round, 3rd pick of the amateur draft), while Randy Bush was still in AA at the Twins minor league Orlando affiliate.
Back off, she-vixen.

The team leaders were Gary Ward, John Castino, Roy Smalley, Butch Wynegar, Ron Washington and 1969 World Series hero, Jerry Koosman (BTW: thank you Jerry, for lending your lovely daughter to our Patron Service Staff at Canterbury Downs, circa 1987. Good genes really stand out!).
Growlin' Gary Ward: in a sea of smiling faces, he retains his penitentiary face!
Among the reasons he was my favoite Twin. He was the Twins answer to
Don Baylor as a clubhouse enforcer long before Baylor became a Twin in '87.

"Forget ladies, I bring the Bombs, si?"
Bombo Rivera, 1979 Topps Card
You had guys on the way out ( the enigmatic Landreaux, who would surface later that fall with the eventual World Champ Dodgers), Glenn Adams, Bombo Rivera - all guys who had played for a few '70s edition Twins, plus coaches who had played or been on the Twins playing roster in the 1960's (pitching coach Podres, Manager Johnny Goryl, his successor, Billy "Shotgun" Gardner).  Recall too that Johnny Pods guru'd Sweet Music in his use of the circle change up. Those damn Brooklyn boys always stick together!

So, all in all, a '60's coaching staff, with a roster of mostly '70's guys buttressing (buttressing? Isn't that illegal in several states?) a core group of young '80's guys who would come up after the rosters expanded (Tim Laudner and Smalley are the only players who would make it to 1987, not counting coach Rick Stelmaszek). Stelmaszek, just beginning his time that spring with the Twins and now a four-decade guy, is the longest tenured member of the organization - if you completely ignore the existence of Jim Rantz

'Sall for now.  Hope you enjoyed the trip.
May Your Taters Fly Far!