My baseball cards are dying

As I look back at the major league players who died in 2018 I’m struck with the fact that most of these players are still players from when I collected baseball cards. I saw a handful of them, but mostly these were just players I knew from reading their baseball card information.

Some heavyweight players died in 2018 including my second favorite San Francisco Giant of all time (Willie McCovey), the man who made the moon shot famous long before we landed on the moon (Wally Moon), the player from the second greatest baseball trivia question (Tony Cloninger), the original Fro man (Oscar Gamble), the man who broke the Kids face (Jack Hamilton), the man who made the Expos Orange (Rusty Staub), and a host of others that I had a small emotional connection with.

Following this link is the full list, below are players I mentioned above.

Willie McCovey was not only a San Francisco Giant he was an actual giant even if  Baseball Reference says he was only 6’4.  Even at a mere 6’4 he still stands among the Giants of the baseball world. Below is the list of every MLB player who was at least 6’4 with a career bWAR > 50.  It is a small list dominated by 1st baseman which was also one of the unique things about Willie McCovey in that he played over 200 games in the outfield.  For whatever reason, I loved watching McCovey swing the bat even though I knew that usually meant destruction was coming for my Dodgers.

Player           WAR/pos Ht OPS+ From   To  HR       Pos
Mark McGwire        62.2 77  163 1986 2001 583   *3/HD59
Frank Thomas        73.9 77  156 1990 2008 521     *D3/H
Miguel Cabrera      69.4 76  151 2003 2018 465   3579/DH
Jim Thome           72.9 76  147 1991 2012 612      3D5H
Willie McCovey      64.5 76  147 1959 1980 521   *3H7/9D
Chipper Jones       85.2 76  141 1993 2012 468  *57/H6D9
Dave Winfield       64.2 78  130 1973 1995 465 *97D8H/35
John Olerud         58.2 77  129 1989 2005 255      *3DH
Joe Mauer           55.1 77  124 2004 2018 143    23D/H9
Scott Rolen         70.2 76  122 1996 2012 316      *5/H

Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 1/15/2019.

Wally Moon hit Moon Shots over the short Coliseum porch and Vin Scully made them famous. Per wiki:

In baseball, a moonshot is referred to as a home run that travels a great distance vertically. The term “Moonshot” was coined by MLB Hall of Fame former Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully, describing high home runs by Wally Moon[1] The term would later be referenced in newspapers as “Moon Shots”

I never saw Moon play except in old video’s but he was a key component of the Los Angeles Dodgers first World Championship in 1959 when he led the league in triples with eleven and came in fourth in MVP voting.  He was also a member of the team for the 1963 and 1965 World Championships.

Tony Cloninger is the answer to the trivia question “What player hit two grand slams in the same game?”.  Sabr has a great article about that day and is worth the read. I read about his feat on the back of his baseball card back when I was about nine and would never forget it. In case you didn’t know, Tony Cloninger was a pitcher.

Oscar Gamble wore an afro like no other major league player ever wore an afro.


Besides the hair, he was also an excellent left-handed power hitter who had an above average career as a platoon player and put up a career OPS+ of 120 while slugging 200 home runs.  In over 5,000 plate appearances he was only allowed 717 against left-handed pitching even though his career OPS against them was .705.

Jack Hamilton’s career was forever intertwined with Tony Conigliaro when a pitch got away from Jack in 1967 and crushed the young sluggers face, basically ending the career of one of the great young hitters in baseball history.  Only four players in baseball history had hit 100 home runs before their age 23 seasons. Tony was one of them. The other three were allowed to have a career, and all three were considered the best of the best.

Player             HR From   To   Age   PA  OPS
Mel Ott           115 1926 1931 17-22 2644 .975
Eddie Mathews     112 1952 1954 20-22 1874 .944
Alex Rodriguez    106 1994 1998 18-22 2271 .906
Tony Conigliaro   104 1964 1967 19-22 2046 .849

Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 1/15/2019.

Rusty Staub was one of the players the Houston Astros traded away back when they must have felt their job was to enrich the rest of the league while they dabbled in mediocrity. This was the team that traded Joe Morgan just before his prime, and Rusty Staub was no different. Rusty would go onto greatness with the Expos and end up playing 23 years. Sabr has his bio.

Red Schoendienst was one of the first baseball players I ever read about. Back in Germany, I would spend time in the school’s library reading every single baseball biography I could find. It was littered with Cardinals like Red. This is the Sabr bio on him. The one thing that stood out for me in the Sabr bio was that he played minor league ball while WWII was going on.  Red was a name that Vin Scully would refer to all the time in the 1970s since he had become the Cardinal manager in 1965 and held that into mid-seventies.  1967 was the first World Series I was aware enough to understand and through the armed service’s radio, I listened to Red’s Cardinals defeat my Red Sox. I also listened to the Tigers defeat his Cardinals in 1968.

I don’t want to speak ill of the dead but Bob Bailey might have been the first Dodger I was really peeved at. The Dodgers acquired him in 1967 for Maury Wills and as 1967 was the season I became a 100% baseball aware I expected big things. His crime was to play in Dodger Stadium in the late 1960s when baseballs died in the outfield.  I never saw Bob Bailey play, but I did stare at the back of his baseball card and could never forget that he hit a measly .227 two years in a row. I didn’t understand park effects at that time. His 1968 season actually translated into a decent 104 OPS. The Dodgers bailed on him at the wrong time by selling him to the new Montreal franchise where Bailey would end up having a solid career including three seasons with an OPS over 130.  This is the Sabr bio on him.

Johnny Briggs was a platoon outfielder who finished his career with 4838 plate appearances and an OPS+ of 121.  I had numerous Johnny Briggs baseball cards and had forgotten until doing this research that he left MLB at the age of 31 to play in Japan. That did not work out and he never played baseball again.  Sabr has a bio on him.

John Kennedy played for the Dodgers in 1965 and 1966 after being acquired in the Frank Howard / Claude Osteen deal. He was the epitome of a 1960’s utility futility infielder. An infielder who played all over the diamond but was futile with the bat. His glove didn’t quite seem up to snuff either. In 2200 plate appearances he had a bWAR of negative 2.8. For context that placed him 58th out of 69 players who had at least 2200 plate appearances and an OPS+ of 70 or less. It seemed I would get 100 John Kennedy baseball cards to one Don Drysdale. Sabr has a bio on him. Even they couldn’t spin him out to be very good but I did remember from the bio that he had a part in Jim Bouton’s Ball Four:

John Kennedy flew into a rage at Emmett Ashford over a called strike and was tossed out of the game. Still raging, he kicked in the water cooler in the dugout, picked it up and threw it onto the field. Afterward, we asked him what had gotten into him. He really isn’t that type. And he said, “Just as I got called out on strikes, my greenie kicked in.

I was surprised to see Bruce Kison on this list. It doesn’t seem that long ago I was watching Bruce pitch for the Angels but it was long ago. When I saw his name on the deceased list of 2018 I only remembered two things. He had pitched for the Angels and he had a nasty sidearm delivery but once I read his Sabr bio it all came back to me. 1971 World Series.

When wild-eyed rookie right-handed pitcher Bruce Kison was thrust into relief with two outs in the first inning of Game Four of the 1971 World Series against the overwhelmingly favored Baltimore Orioles, the Pirates were in a three-run hole and in danger of losing their third game of the Series with just one victory. But with the largest crowd ever to watch a baseball game in Pittsburgh (51,378) crammed into Three Rivers Stadium to witness the first night game in World Series history, the calm and collected Kison tossed 6⅓ scoreless innings, yielding just one hit. He kept the Orioles off balance with inside fastballs and sliders from his whip-like side-arm delivery, but set a World Series record by hitting three batters.

Kison had been integral in defeating the Orioles in the 71 Series. A classic seven-game World Series that had the Orioles on the last legs of the brilliant run that started when they swept the Dodgers in 1966. The team still had Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson, Boog Powell, Paul Blair and the vaunted pitching staff that boasted four twenty game winners.  Those four starters started 142 games and completed almost half of them (70). Going against the vaunted Orioles was Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, Manny Sanguillen, Al Oliver, and Steve Blass. It was back when the World Series captivated you because this might be the only time you got to see the stars play game after game.

Frank Quilici had one great offensive inning in a modest career but it came against the Dodgers in the first game of the 1965 World Series when he collected two hits in one against Don Drysdale. Not many players can say they got two hits in the same innings against Big D. This is the Sabr bio on Quilici.

Quilici and the Twins caught a break in Game One, on October 6, when Dodgers pitcher Sandy Koufax famously refused to pitch that day because it was Yom Kippur, the most solemn date in the Jewish religion. Instead, the Twins faced Don Drysdale, and Quilici made history by getting two hits in one inning in the World Series. Drysdale was off that day, and the Twins unloaded on him for six runs in the bottom of the third inning. Quilici led the inning off with a double and scored on a three-run homer by Zoilo Versalles. Then he singled and drove in Don Mincher for the frame’s sixth run. Dodgers manager Walter Alston lifted Drysdale after Quilici’s second hit.6 Those two safeties represented half of Quilici’s hit total for the Series; he had four hits in 20 at-bats, and played in every game as the Twins lost to the Dodgers in seven.

Lee Stange was on the Red Sox in 1967 and pitched in the 1967 World Series. I have numerous Lee Stange baseball cards but could not remember any real fact about him other than he was on the Red Sox when I was a die hard Red Sox fan. I turned to his Sabr bio for help and found it on the first paragraph.

If the Detroit Tigers had only won their final game of the 1967 season, Lee Stange would have started the most important game in nearly 20 years for the Boston Red Sox.

After the Red Sox beat the Minnesota Twins on the last day of the magical season, manager Dick Williams told Stange to take it easy in the clubhouse. If the Tigers beat the California Angels in the second game of a doubleheader, Stange would start the one-game playoff against the Tigers the following day.

The Tigers went on to lose to the Angels in the second game of the doubleheader, which gave the American League pennant to the Sox and sparked a champagne- and shaving cream-filled party in the Sox clubhouse. Without a chance to start a playoff, Stange figured he would still start a World Series game, but that didn’t happen.

“I don’t understand why I was good enough to start a playoff game, but not a World Series game,” Stange said 40 years later.1

I had stopped collecting cards by the time Ken Howell showed up for the Dodgers in 1984. Ken never pitched as well as I thought his stuff was, but he had a solid bullpen career for the Dodgers from 1984 – 1988. Just long enough to earn that World Series ring. I don’t have any single memory of Ken, he started pitching well after my brain was already stuffed with too much stuff but here is a link to an obit by Cary Osborne.

Bob Bailey Las Vegas, Nevada 01-09-2018 1962 1978
Johnny Briggs Big Trees, California 12-25-2018 1956 1960
Ed Charles East Elmhurst, New York 03-15-2018 1962 1969
Tony Cloninger Denver, North Carolina 07-24-2018 1961 1972
Tito Francona New Brighton, Pennsylvania 02-13-2018 1956 1970
Oscar Gamble Birmingham, Alabama 01-31-2018 1969 1985
Jack Hamilton Branson, Missouri 02-22-2018 1962 1969
Ken Howell West Bloomfield, Michigan 11-09-2018 1984 1990
John Kennedy Peabody, Massachusetts 08-09-2018 1962 1974
Bruce Kison Bradenton, Florida 06-02-2018 1971 1985
Steve Kline Chelan, Washington 06-04-2018 1970 1977
Willie McCovey Palo Alto, California 10-31-2018 1959 1980
Wally Moon Bryan, Texas 02-09-2018 1954 1965
Dave Nelson Milwaukee, Wisconsin 04-22-2018 1968 1977
Rob Picciolo Los Angeles, California 01-03-2018 1977 1985
Frank Quilici Burnsville, Minnesota 05-14-2018 1965 1970
Jose Santiago Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico 10-09-2018 1954 1956
Red Schoendienst Town and Country, Missouri 06-06-2018 1945 1963
Lee Stange Riverview, Florida 09-21-2018 1961 1970
Rusty Staub West Palm Beach, Florida 03-29-2018 1963 1985
Moose Stubing Santa Ana, California 01-20-2018 1967 1967
Chuck Taylor Murfreesboro, Tennessee 06-05-2018 1969 1976
Bobby Trevino Nuevo Leon, Mexico 12-05-2018 1968 1968
Luis Valbuena Yaracuy, Venezuela 12-06-2018 2008 2018

1 Comment

  1. 68elcamino427

    The Cardboard Gods


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