Sunday, January 30, 2011

Topps countdown at No. 2 with 1970 card No. 1 and a miracle

The real miracle of the 1969 Miracle Mets, in my mind, isn’t that the team won the World Series.

It’s the relative ease by which the team dispatched both the slugging Atlanta Braves in the playoffs and then the mighty Baltimore Orioles in the Series.

Keep in mind; the Mets were a 100-to-1 shot to win the World Series before the start of the season. And despite the growing collection of young talent and able vets, the team had not yet to post a winning record.

Topps showed the team the love it deserved with the spectacular card No. 1 in the 1970 set, the team photo with World Champions above the players.

The photo itself is a little odd. It’s in the Shea outfield, but shot slightly from the side, with most of the players looking to the center, where there must have been another photographer. Why not use the official photo? And check out the ball and glove on the ground in the middle, between Rube Walker and Yogi Berra. Someone was getting a little artsy.

Topps did a nice job with both of the postseason subsets, too. The key moments were captured, and there are two celebration cards.

Not that Braves fans have anything to remember their team’s appearance in the playoffs. Topps used a great photo of Tom Seaver for Game 1, Ken Boswell approaching home after his two-run blast for Game 2 and highlighted Nolan Ryan’s relief appearance for the Game 3 card. The celebration card – with “We’re number one!” shows Wayne Garrett, Ryan, Tommie Agee and, I think, Tug McGraw, just out of the shower.

The Mets were a team built around pitching, but the team scored a whopping 27 runs in the three-game sweep. Braves fans certainly can’t fault Hank Aaron, who launched three two-run homers in the series.

The opposition does make an appearance in the World Series subset. The Game 1 card shows Don Buford heading back to the dugout after the home run he smacked off Seaver to start the game.

But, as Terry Cashman croons, “they made a believer of Mr. Earl Weaver in four games straight.”

The Game 2 card shows Donn Clendenon crossing home after his fourth-inning home run. Game 3’s card appropriately shows off Tommie Agee, depicting the first of his two spectacular catches.

Game 4 shows J.C. Martin’s controversial bunt that pushed across the winning run in the tenth inning. Personally, I’d rather have a horizontal card of Ron Swoboda’s dive, but I can’t complain.

The Game 5 card shows Jerry Koosman “shutting the door,” but that game had enough heroes and highlights that it could have filled a subset of its own, with Cleon Jones’ shoe, Al Weis’ only Shea homer or the big hits from Swoboda and Clendenon.

The “World Series Celebration” card – with “Mets whoop it up” as the caption – is an epic to itself. It’s a scene of clubhouse chaos. Note that Ed Charles still looks stunned that the team pulled it off, holding up an “Amazing Mets” album that came out earlier in the summer. Ed Kranepool and Tug McGraw look gleeful, and I can’t figure out which Met is mugging for the camera in the foreground. Jerry Grote or Swoboda, perhaps? But look behind Charles, as a group of stern looking reporters are interviewing someone off camera.

The whole subset is the highlight on one of Topps’ best sets, but it didn’t get much better that card No. 1.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Topps top 60, No. 3: Magical Mookie Wilson

No. 3, 1985 Mookie Wilson

Just try it. Think about Mookie Wilson and not smile.

Oh, sure. Bob Stanley and Bill Buckner might grimace a little.

But everyone else sure seems to have fond memories of the fleet centerfielder with the mega-watt grin.

Even the nickname bestowed on William Heyward Wilson by his grandmother kind of forces the mouth into a smile just by saying it.

Mookie arrived in 1980 when the Mets were still in what Glenn Close called “the quiet years” in the video. It’s only fitting that he was not only still there for the championship, but will be forever linked with its most famous moment.

Every Mets fan knows this by heart. Game Six, tenth inning, Mets down a run. Bob Costas in the Sox clubhouse, Jean Yawkey already fingering the World Series trophy.
After fouling off three pitches, Stanley threw a wild one that Mookie was able to avoid, bringing Kevin Mitchell home with the tying run.

After fouling back several more, Mookie slapped one up the first base line, where it magically got through Buckner’s legs, bringing home Ray Knight.

Get off Buckner’s case. Even if he had come up with the ball, Stanley wasn’t close enough to first to make the play and Mookie’s speed would have placed him there first anyway.

That’s because there’s magic in Mookie, and that at-bat couldn’t have happened to any other player.

He left the team in 1989 in a trade for Jeff Musselman, but Mookie still is ranked second in steals and triples, fourth in at-bats, sixth in games, hits and runs and 10th in doubles.

Here’s how unassuming Mookie Wilson is. He has a commercial drivers’ license because he thought he’d be a truck driver after retiring.

Not a chance. He’s been with the Mets most of the time since, and this year he’ll be back in uniform as the first base coach.

There are many great Mets cards in the 1985 set. The Mookie, which shows him flashing that famous grin, is my favorite.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Say hey! The Topps countdown hits No. 4 with Willie Mays

Willie Mays, I submit, is the best all-around baseball player of all time.

His career numbers already are staggering. Now consider that he lost most of 1952 and all of 1953 to military service.

Also consider that his first home ballpark had a centerfield that was so deep it was practically in another borough.

Consider again that his second home ballpark was known for its brutal weather for night games, certain to sap the life out of potential home runs.
Consider, once more, that the staggering statistics were compiled in an era known to be dominated by pitchers.

It’s very easy to argue that had any of those factors been different, Willie Mays’ homecoming to New York in 1972 is a march to home run No. 700 or even beyond.

Imagine Henry Aaron and Willie Mays both chasing down the Bambino in 1973.

Of course, the ways things actually played out was pretty spectacular, too.
Willie arrived home as a beloved elder statesman – thank you, Mrs. Payson – and hit a home run in his first game.

The following year he was picked for the All-Star team as a reserve, and helped guide the upstart believers all the way to the World Series, where he hit .286.
And, on the night he announced his retirement, he delivered the best-known farewell speech of any player not known to be dying.

“I look at the kids over here, the way they’re playing, the way they’re fighting for themselves, and it tells me one thing: Willie, say good bye to America.”

The Mets have kept Mays’ No. 24 out of circulation save for a brief accident and the short tenure of a future Hall-of-Famer. The team needs to go the extra step and place it on the outfield wall alongside Casey, Gil, Tom and Jackie. The best player ever to wear a major league uniform wore the Mets’ blue and orange. We should be proud that.

Mays appears on just two main set Topps cards. He’s part of a World Series subset in the 1974 issue. But I prefer the 1973 card.

Willie’s in a classic batting pose at Shea. He still has arms as thick of tree trunks. Willie’s older, to be sure. But he till looks mighty. And, best of all, he’s a Met.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Pause the Topps countdown to salute the newest Met in the Hall of Fame, Roberto Alomar

We need to take yet another sidebar into our Topps top 60 countdown to recognize that yet another former Mets player being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Second baseman Roberto Alomar was named on 90 percent of the ballots to earn his spot among the immortals and undeserving Yankees.

Now there are going to be some people who will look at Alomar’s year and a half with the Mets and suggest that perhaps they weren’t the best in Roberto’s career.

These people point to things like his batting average for that time -- .266 and .262 –and note that the numbers are slightly below his career .300 average.

Being a Mets-cup-half-full kind of guy, I note that those averages are far better than the .180 he posted with the White Sox for part of 2004.

Roberto does not have a ton of Topps cards in his Mets uniform, but there are two that jump to mind.

The card from the 2003 base set shows Roberto in an action shot, looking great in his home pinstripes watching one of those 157 hits rocket into the field. Beautiful.

The other is the Heritage card from the same year, mimicking the outstanding 1954 set with both an action shot and head shot.

I couldn’t help but add two cards from other companies’ sets.

The Studio cards were usually beautiful, and there’s no disputing the grandeur of Roberto, bat on shoulders, in front of Shea Stadium’s neon players. Face it: No other stadium would look as good.

The other, from an Upper Deck set, loses points for the silver foil. But check out the photo. Alomar is so delighted to be a Met – giddy, in fact – that he has to check the logo on his cap to remind himself of just how glorious it is to be a part of the team. And can you blame him?

Did you know there are more Mets in the Hall than True Yankees? As Casey used to say, you can look it up!

Mets: Alomar, Tom Seaver, Willie Mays, Gary Carter, Nolan Ryan, Eddie Murray, Warren Spahn, Duke Snider Ritchie Ashburn, Rickey Henderson and Yogi Berra. From the front office we have George Weiss and Whitey Herzog. And, of course, Casey Stengel.

Now, True Yankees: Ruth, Gehrig, Berra. Possibly Casey.

Hey, don’t blame me because the Mets are inclusive and embrace all their players, and the Yankee fans limit their love to guys who earn their pinstripes through real or imagined Yankee glory.

To come up with this list, I looked at the Yankees who somehow got added to the Hall and subtracted the known cheaters (Whitey Ford), shameful booze hounds (Mantle), overrated (DiMaggio), people who bang my prized Hall of Fame ball on the table at card shows (Reggie), guys the owner tried to smear (Winfield), guys better known as Mets (Henderson), guys so ashamed of being Yankees that they left their Hall plaque cap blank (Hunter), guys added by the Veterans Committee decades after their playing career ended (Rizzutto, Lazzeri, Gordon) and so on.

Somehow John Franco was allowed to fall off the ballot this year, a scandal. But soon we'll be celebrating Mike Piazza's well-earned enshrinement.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Topps all-time countdown continues with Jose Reyes, swiping spot No. 5

No. 5, 2010 Jose Reyes

Is there a player on the Mets who will be watched more closely in 2011 than Jose Reyes?

When Reyes is at his healthy best, he’s the most exciting player in the game. And spacious Citi Field is practically designed to allow players with speed like Reyes to run wild.

Jose already is the team’s all-time leader in stolen bases, with his 331 swipes are way ahead of Mookie Wilson’s 281.

But look at the triples. Reyes has 83. Mookie has 62. The player in third place has 45, a little more than half of Reyes’ total. That player, by the way, is Bud Harrelson, and I wouldn’t have guessed that.

But the nearest active player is Angel Pagan with 19, or No. 13 on the all-time list. Now, that speaks highly of Angel, who has only been on the team for parts of three seasons. But it also means that Reyes is putting that record out of reach.

As the Mets debate whether to trade Reyes in is walk year or lock him up in a long-term deal, Sandy Alderson is going to be looking for more scenes like the one depicted on Reyes’ 2010 card.

Jose has just slid head first into third base. A bewildered Marlin is looking in vain to see if he got the call. But he knows the result. The umpire is making it clear for everyone else in the stadium.

Given the distance from the action and the number of people in the shot, the card recalls the glories of the 1971 set. Though a true '71 action classic would have included two more players, the third base coach and possibly a hot dog vendor.

About the only thing marring the scene is the awful Citi Field inaugural season patch. But we can live with that.