1976 SSPC: Phil & Joe Niekro, Tony Perez

Hall-of-Famer Phil Niekro was only 37 in 1976.  For anyone else, that would come across as trying to be funny, but Phil was still over a decade from throwing his last knuckleball.

Phil went 17-11 with a 3.29 ERA… and that’s for a Braves team that lost 92 games.  According to baseball-reference.com, he was the last active player who had been born in the 1930’s, the last active player to have played for the Milwaukee Braves, and the last pitcher to win 20 and lose 20 in the same season.  In that 1979 season, Phil Niekro went 21-20 and lead the league in games started (44), complete games (23) and innings pitched (342.0).

For what it’s worth, when I got this Phil Niekro card off of COMC, it completed my Braves team set.  The only other complete team set I have from 1976 SSPC is the Orioles, and I bought that as a team set on eBay (The original lot I bought had no Orioles in it).

Phil’s brother Joe was only 31 in 1976, and went 4-8, 3.36 for his Astros team.  In that same 1979 season where Phil Niekro went 21-20, Joe went 21-11.  I’d have to think that’s a record for wins by brothers and decisions by brothers in a single season, but you never know.

I never knew that Joe Niekro was a first-year Padre.  He started 1969 with the Cubs, and appeared on his 1969 Topps card as a Cub.  On April 26th, 1969, he was traded to the Padres in a deal for Dick Selma.  That December, the Padres traded him to the Tigers, and it is as a capless Tiger that he’s shown on his 1970 Topps card.

Hall-of-Famer Tony Perez didn’t win 20 games at any point, and never played for the Padres, but he was an All-Star in 1976 and helped The Big Red Machine become World Champions in 1976 before being traded to Montreal for 1977.

I love the composition of this photo… it’s not unusual to see a player fake-swinging with the end of the bat up in the camera, but fake-bunting?  It’s not something one sees often.

Shea-o-meter:
All three are at Shea.
Shea: 72
Pretty sure it’s Shea: 13
Can’t tell: 20
Not Shea: 9

1970’s Census: Keeping track of all the instances of 1970’s trends
The Niekro Brothers have the sideburns going for them.
Total Cards: 113
1970’s Sideburns: 65
Fu Manchu: 4
Mustache other than Fu Manchu: 36
Afro: 2
Perm: 2
Aviators: 8
Long Hair: 27

1976 SSPC #594: Carl Erskine, Ralph Branca & Pee Wee Reese (Checklist #6)

This was meant to be a quick post… You’ll soon see that this goal was not met.

In my last post about 1976 SSPC, I featured a checklist card that has Keith Hernandez and Lou Brock on the front… but much to my chagrin when I had been asked about the checklistiness of the card, I didn’t scan the back, so you couldn’t see the checklist part.

Today I’m going to rectify that by featuring another such checklist card, and give you some Dodger legends to boot.

No explanation was provided with the card, but this appears to be from a Mets’ Old Timers Day…. possibly 1973, but I have my doubts.  More on this in a bit.

The checklists cards are the only ones in 1976 SSPC which have text on the front of the card;  as you can see, it’s only the card number and the names of the subjects.  I presume this is because there isn’t room on the back for this information, or they just didn’t want to have that information get mixed in with the checklist.

As 1976 SSPC was only sold as complete sets, one could question the need for a checklist in the first place.  Maybe it’s strictly informational, maybe it’s just because it was considered traditional to include checklists in a card set, maybe it’s just a matter of seven cards which wouldn’t need text on the back.

Here’s the back:

There are 7 checklists, and six of them have the “Subscribe” message on the bottom. The 7th checklist, card #595, instead has this information on the back:

And there you go, in case you were wondering about what SSPC stood for:  Sports Stars Publishing Co.

Getting back to the Old Timer’s game…  I found this post from Centerfield Maz which discusses Saturday, June 9th, 1973.  On that day, there was a ceremony to retire the #14 worn by Gil Hodges, who had suffered a fatal heart attack just before the prior season.  Along with the ceremony, there was also an Old-Timers game between the Mets alumni and Dodgers alumni.

The Centerfield Maz post features images from the 1974 Mets yearbook, so I retrieved my own copy and scanned that page to present the evidence as to why the photo on the SSPC card may – or may not – be from that day.

Here’s the page at a reduced scale;  I’ll save the entirety of the page for a later post about the yearbook as a whole.

First off, Exhibit A: Carl Furillo and Pee Wee Reese. As you can see, Pee Wee is wearing an L.A. Dodgers cap, just like in the photo above.

Ah, but here’s Exhibit B, which throws the whole thing into question… In this photo of Carl Erskine and Ralph Branca, Erskine is wearing a different Brooklyn cap (this one looks like something of a knockoff), while Branca is wearing an L.A. cap.

I did some quick research using other Mets yearbooks. Given that many of the photos in the 1976 SSPC set were taken in 1975, it stands to reason that this photo might have been taken at the 1975 Old-Timers day. I looked at my 1976 Mets yearbook, and Pee Wee was there, but there weren’t any photos of the other two. I then dug out my 1975 Mets yearbook, and there were numerous Dodgers pictured, but none of these three… which doesn’t mean that the three of them weren’t there.  So take that however you will.

After all that, I almost forgot to update the running SSPC totals…

Shea-o-meter:
This whole post is based on the assumption that this was taken at Shea, but to be honest nothing conclusive in the background which would hold up in a court of law, so I’ll wimp out and say “Pretty Sure”.
Shea: 69
Pretty sure it’s Shea: 13
Can’t tell: 20
Not Shea: 9

1970’s Census: Keeping track of all the instances of 1970’s trends
I didn’t think this would be necessary with three “Old Timers”, but damned if Oisk and Pee Wee don’t have 70’s sideburns.
Total Cards: 110
1970’s Sideburns: 63
Fu Manchu: 4
Mustache other than Fu Manchu: 36
Afro: 2
Perm: 2
Aviators: 8
Long Hair: 27


Bonus image:
Public spirited as I am, I would like to help somebody save a buck. For anyone who’s only interested in what this year’s album stickers look like without actually collecting and/or sticking them, here are the contents of a pack I bought last night.

1976 SSPC: Three Cool Set Filler Cards

One of the things that’s unusual about the 1976 SSPC set…

Wait a minute, let me rephrase that…

One of many things that are unusual about the 1976 SSPC set is that the checklist is organized by team from card #1 (Buzz Capra, Braves) up through card #586 (Danny Murtaugh, Pirates). From #587 to #630, the cards are all over the place, and it’s not hard to imagine that they just filled out the set based on what photos they had available when they got to that point. There are combo cards which have checklists on the back, veterans who for some reason aren’t included with their teammates, managers and better-known coaches, and younger players (and Mets manager Joe Frazier) pictured in their minor league uniforms.

Anyone following along with my SSPC posts probably haven’t noticed, but I’ve been selecting players to feature based on their team’s position in the set. The last post featured members of the Indians, Mets and Pirates, and now we’re at the “free for all” at the end of the set, before I swing back around and chose players from the Braves, Reds and Astros at the beginning of the set.

Erskine Thomason is pictured with the Toledo Mud Hens, which at the time was the Phillies AAA team. This photo was taken at MacArthur Stadium in Syracuse (You can see the scoreboard behind him has “CHIEFS” as the home team). Someone associated with SSPC/TCMA was taking pictures in Syracuse, because my 1978 TCMA Tidewater Tides set features photos taken in the same ballpark.
1976-sspc-600-erskine-thomason
Thomason made it to the Majors with the Phillies in 1974 and pitched just one scoreless inning… And that was his MLB career. He pitched against the Cubs and got Steve Swisher, Steve Stone and Rick Monday out in order. Thomason didn’t pitch after this card came out in 1976; he retired to spend time with his family after he was dropped from the 40-man roster.

You might be like me and wondering if Erskine was named after Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Carl Erskine.  I’m guessing the answer is “no”, given that Thomason was born during Carl Erskine’s rookie season, and Erskine is Thomason’s middle name (his first name is Melvin), so I think it’s more likely a family name than homage to a former 20-game winner.

Speaking of 20-game winners… Harvey Haddix was the pitching coach for the Indians in the 1970’s, but in the 1950’s and 1960’s he was a pitcher for the Cardinals, Phillies, Reds, Pirates and Orioles.
1976-sspc-623-harvey-haddix
Haddix won 20 games in his rookie season of 1953 and lead the league with 6 shutouts… and yet finished second in Rookie Of The Year voting to the Dodgers’ Jim Gilliam.   On May 26, 1959 Haddix, while pitching for the Pirates, hurled 12 perfect innings against the Milwaukee Braves, only to lose the game in the 13th.  Lew Burdette pitched 13 innings for the Braves, gave up 12 hits with no walks and got the win.

Card #590 is a checklist card which features Keith Hernandez and Lou Brock hanging out at the batting cage.
1976-sspc-590-hernandez-brock-checklist
Keith Hernandez is wearing #18 in this photo, which is a number he only wore in 1974 and 1975. In 1976 he switched to #37, which he wore until he was traded to the Mets.

Shea-o-meter:
As mentioned, Thomason is in Syracuse.  You can see the Shea scoreboard over Harvey Haddix’ shoulder, and the batting cage setting of the combo card is similar enough to Lou Brock’s solo card that I’ll go ahead and label that as Shea as well.
Shea: 69
Pretty sure it’s Shea: 12
Can’t tell: 20
Not Shea: 9

1970’s Census: Keeping track of all the instances of 1970’s trends
Sideburns for Thomason and Brock, long-ish hair for Hernandez… not a damn thing 1970’s about Harvey Haddix (except the uniform).
Total Cards: 109
1970’s Sideburns: 62
Fu Manchu: 4
Mustache other than Fu Manchu: 36
Afro: 2
Perm: 2
Aviators: 8
Long Hair: 27

1976 SSPC: Frank Robinson, Dave Kingman And Larry Demery

I picked up a handful of 1976 SSPC cards during the COMC Black Friday promotion, and while I was scanning them, it inspired me to do another SSPC post.  None of these cards are ones I just got – I have a particular method to my posting that the new cards fit into just yet – but it got me doing a post, anyway.

Frank Robinson was the Indians manager at the time these cards were issued, but he was also an active player.  He mainly served as the DH, but did put himself in the field every now and then.  1976 was his last year as a player, and his last full season as the Indians’ manager – he’d be replaced by Jeff Torborg in June, 1977.
1976-sspc-525-frank-robinson
Frank is a HOFer who knows how to pose for a photo.  Aside from his many on-the-field accomplishments, he was the first African/American manager in the Majors;  In addition to the Indians he also managed the Giants and Expos/Nationals.  I probably knew this at the time, but have since forgotten;  he was replaced by Torborg in 1977, but he replaced Torborg as Expos manager in 2002 (although that was during the whole “We’re going to contract the Expos and Twins, oh, no we’re not” debacle.  Yay, Bud Selig!).

Dave Kingman hit 37 home runs in 1976… Which is a bit of a shame, as Mike Schmidt lead the league with 38.  1976 was also the first year that Kong made the All-Star team, and his last full season of his first tour of duty with the Mets (he also played for the Mets from 1981-1983).
1976-sspc-542-dave-kingman
Kingman was part of the June 15th, 1977 “Midnight Massacre”, a dark moment in Mets history.  Not only was Tom Seaver was traded to the Reds, but Kingman was traded to the Padres for Bobby Valentine and Paul Siebert.  That September, the Angels claimed him from the Padres on waivers, and traded him to the Yankees 9 days later.  After the season, he became a free agent and signed with the Cubs.

According to baseball-reference.com, Kingman was #20 on the career homer list at the time he retired and had, at one point, hit the most home runs of anyone not in the HOF.  Now he’s #42 on the career homer list and this past season he was passed by Miguel Cabrera and Adrian Beltre.

Larry Demery pitched for the Pirates from 1974 to 1977, finishing his career with a 29-23 record and a 3.72 ERA.
1976-sspc-564-larry-demery
He pitched, although not terribly well, in the 1974 and 1975 NLCS. In 1976, he went 10-7, 3.17 with 2 saves. He pitched his last MLB game at the age of 24, but appeared in very scattered minor league games over the following seasons, so one would think he suffered some sort of injury, but I couldn’t find anything definitive.

I like Demery’s jacket and I was going to say that I didn’t remember seeing one like that before, but his 1975 card has him wearing the same (or identical) jacket.
1975-topps-larry-demery
This card always caught my attention because Demery looked like a kid… and he was 21 when the photo was taken, so he wasn’t terribly far removed from being a kid.

Just to be clear to anyone who might be wondering, this is not the Larry Demery who was convicted in the killing of Michael Jordan’s father.

Shea-o-meter:

There’s no way of telling where Larry Demery is.  The other two I have no doubts about.

Shea: 67
Pretty sure it’s Shea: 12
Can’t tell: 20
Not Shea: 8

1970’s Census: Keeping track of all the instances of 1970’s trends

Sideburns for F. Robinson and Kingman, Afro for Demery.

Total Cards: 106
1970’s Sideburns: 60
Fu Manchu: 4
Mustache other than Fu Manchu: 36
Afro: 2
Perm: 2
Aviators: 8
Long Hair: 26

1976 SSPC: Joe Hoerner, Lou Piniella And Ted Martinez

Today’s first card is one of the most famous – or infamous? – cards in the 1976 SSPC set. Joe Hoerner was a reliever who pitched 493 games in the Majors and none of them were starts. He made the All-Star game with the Phillies in 1970, won a World Series with the 1967 Cardinals, and pitched until he was 40.
1976-sspc-456-joe-hoerner
This card shows Hoerner in his second stint with the Phils; the first was from 1970 to 1972, and the second stint was just for the 1975 season. He signed as a free agent with the Rangers for the 1976 season.

Baseball-card-wise, Hoerner shared two “Rookie Stars” cards with players from two different teams. He was on a 1964 Colt .45’s Rookie Stars card and a 1966 St. Louis Cardinals Rookie Stars card.

Ted Martinez is known to Mets fans as a promising infielder who couldn’t break through, and to Dodger fans as a versatile utility player.  He also put in short stints with the Cardinals and A’s.
1976-sspc-499-ted-martinez
Teddy didn’t play for the A’s in 1976; he was released in May, signed with the Reds and spent the season at AAA Indianapolis. After the season he was taken by the Dodgers in the Rule V draft, which made me do a double-take. These days players taken in the Rule V draft are guys in the minors who haven’t even sniffed the Majors, and here’s Ted Martinez being drafted after parts of 6 seasons with several teams.  I’m guessing that part of the difference is that guys like Ted Martinez would more likely be a free agent these days than be on someone’s AAA roster.

Lou Piniella is generally associated with the Yankees from his 11 years in the Yankees outfield and his 2.5 seasons managing the Bronx Bombers, that it’s easy to forget that his biggest accomplishments as a player – Rookie Of The Year, All-Star appearnace – came with the Royals.
1976-sspc-445-lou-piniella
Piniella played 4 games with the Orioles in 1964, 6 games with the Indians in 1968 and was taken by the Seattle Pilots in the 1969 expansion draft. Just before the season, Piniella was traded to the Royals for John Gelnar and Steve Whitaker. Piniella was the Rookie Of The Year.

In between his debut and his official rookie season, Piniella played three years with the AAA Portland Beavers.

Royals fans must know this but I didn’t; Piniella batted leadoff on opening day, hit a double in his first at-bat and was driving in by #2 batter Jerry Adair… meaning that Piniella had the first hit, double and run of Royals history.


Shea-o-meter:

I’m pretty sure Joe Hoerner’s at Shea, but I’m not confident.  The other two I have no doubts about.

Shea: 65
Pretty sure it’s Shea: 12
Can’t tell: 19
Not Shea: 8

1970’s Census: Keeping track of all the instances of 1970’s trends

I’m putting Hoerner and Piniella down for sideburns, and since Lou’s hair touches his collar, I’ll label that as long.

Total Cards: 103
1970’s Sideburns: 58
Fu Manchu: 4
Mustache other than Fu Manchu: 36
Afro: 1
Perm: 2
Aviators: 8
Long Hair: 26

1976 SSPC: Ron LeFlore, Bobby Grich, Rogelio Moret

LeVar Burton starred in a 1977 made-for-TV movie called “One In A Million: The Ron LeFlore Story”. Ron LeFlore’s story *is* the kind one makes movies about.
1976-sspc-363-ron-leflore
LeFlore never played baseball until he was in prison for armed robbery, but word of his talent made its way to Tigers manager Billy Martin, who arranged to get him a tryout. When LeFlore was released from prison he signed with the Tigers, and he quickly moved up to be the starting center fielder in Detroit.

LeFlore was an All-Star in 1976, lead the league in runs in 1978 and twice lead the league in stolen bases.

Getting back to “One In A Million”…  At the time, LeVar Burton was known only for playing Kunta Kinte in “Roots”;  this was well before “Reading Rainbow” or “Star Trek:  The Next Generation”.  Appearing as themselves in “One In A Million” were Billy Martin, Bill Freehan, Norm Cash, Al Kaline and Jim Northrup


Bobby Grich was the 19th overall pick in the 1967 draft, would play 17 years, mostly at second base, for the Orioles and Angels, was named an all-star 6 times, Gold Glove 4 times and Silver Slugger once.
1976-sspc-388-bob-grich
In the strike-shortened 1981 season he lead the league with 22 homers and a .543 slugging percentage. Bobby was inducted into the Orioles Hall Of Fame in 1998.


Rogelio “Roger” Moret was a swingman who pitched 9 seasons in the majors, primarily with the Red Sox. Prior to this card coming out, Moret lead the league with a .824 win-loss percentage (14-3).
1976-sspc-420-roger-moret
He was just 20 when he made his debut. For 1976, Moret found himself in Atlanta, having been traded for Tom House… The back of this card lists him with the Braves. He’d last just one year with the Braves before being included in a package of 5 players sent to Texas for Jeff Burroughs.


Shea-o-meter
Grich is at Shea; LeFlore looks to be at Shea, but I can’t tell for sure because it’s dark; Moret is most definitely not at Shea. I won’t even hazard a guess at where he is, I’m sure someone else will know definitively.
Shea: 63
Pretty sure it’s Shea: 11
Can’t tell: 19
Not Shea: 8

1970’s Census: Keeping track of all the instances of 1970’s trends
I’m going to put these guys down as two mustaches and two pair of sideburns.  Grich’s hair is kind of long, but not really by 1970’s standards so I’m leaving him out of that count.

Total Cards: 100
1970’s Sideburns: 56
Fu Manchu: 4
Mustache other than Fu Manchu: 36
Afro: 1
Perm: 2
Aviators: 8
Long Hair: 25

1976 SSPC: Pete LaCock, Larry Biitner And Ken Reitz

Ralph Pierre LaCock, better known as Pete LaCock, was a Major Leaguer who came from a “show biz” family, so he was sort of the Lucas Giolito of the 1970’s.
1976 SSPC #317 Pete LaCock
His aunt, an actress who went by the stage name Joanne Dru, is best known for playing opposite John Wayne in “Red River” and “She Wore A Yellow Ribbon”. His father, Ralph Pierre LaCock Sr., went by Peter Marshall and was the host of “Hollywood Squares” from 1966 to 1981. (Paul Lynde to block!)

Pete LaCock was drafted by the Cubs in the first round of the January 1970 draft, and made it to the Majors as a 20-year-old in 1972. He played five years with the Cubs, but achieved most of his success with the Royals. With the Royals, he made three postseason appearances, culminating with an appearance in Game 2 of the 1980 World Series, where he’d have two putouts but no plate appearances.

As it turned out, that World Series game was his last Major League game. After the season he spent 1981 in Japan with the Taiyo Whales, an experience that he disliked so much that he was flying back to the states as soon as the season was over. He had MLB offers for 1982, but decided to retire instead.

Larry Biittner (that’s not a typo, there are two consecutive “i’s” in his name) was drafted by the Senators and played with the Sens, Rangers, Expos, Cubs and Reds. It looks like the photographer surprised him before a night game.
1976 SSPC #336 Larry Biitner
Biittner would eventually make a reputation as one of the best pinch hitters in the game, but he did bat over .300 a couple of times as a fourth outfielder and backup first baseman.  My favorite “Larry Biittner fact” came off the back of his 1972 baseball card;  in 1970 with the Pittsfield Senators he batted .3247 and lost the Eastern League batting title to the Reading Phillies’ Greg Luzinski who batted .3248

Ken Reitz was the Cardinals’ starting third baseman for most of the 1970’s, was an All-Star in 1980 and won a Gold Glove in 1975.
1976 SSPC #280 Ken Reitz
Despite the Gold Glove, the Cards traded Reitz to the Giants in December 1975 for pitcher Pete Falcone (a trade that made it into the 1976 Topps Traded set). After one year in San Francisco, Reitz was traded back to the Cardinals a year and two days later, this time for pitcher Lynn McGlothen.

Reitz’ nickname was “Zamboni” because of his ability to pick up grounders off the Busch Stadium artificial turf.


Shea-o-meter
These photos probably were all taken at Shea, but it’s not like you can tell definitively. All three go down as “Can’t tell”.
Shea: 62
Pretty sure it’s Shea: 10
Can’t tell: 19
Not Shea: 7

1970’s Census: Keeping track of all the instances of 1970’s trends
I’m going to put these guys down as two sideburns, two mustaches and two examples of long hair.

Total Cards: 97
1970’s Sideburns: 54
Fu Manchu: 4
Mustache other than Fu Manchu: 34
Afro: 1
Perm: 2
Aviators: 8
Long Hair: 25