A baseball trading card is a wonderful, tangible reminder of an era before the internet, ESPN updates, and instant access to information. The baseball card is/was a small cardboard cutout of knowledge filled with player statistics and photos, sometimes cartoon photos. Before cable TV, before Google, before smart phones, the baseball fan read the newspaper for out of town scores, went to games in their local towns/cities/neighborhoods, and ran to their local convenience store with a buck to buy baseball cards. In the spirit of those who still love baseball cards and what they represent, here are some historical baseball figures and their stories told through baseball cards.
October 2, 1978 – Boston’s Mike Torrez threw it, New York’s Bucky Dent hit it. Red Sox fans gasped/Yankees fans exalted as the most unlikely of hitters, Dent, deposited a game changing home run into the netting over the Green Monster, Fenway Park, Boston. The runs score would prove to be the game winners as the New York Yankees would defeat the Boston Red Sox 3-2 and advance in the playoffs, eventually winning the 1978 World Series.
October 15, 1988 – Unhittable Oakland A’s reliever Dennis Eckersley serves up a home run to injured Los Angles Dodgers reserve Kirk Gibson. Gibson, hobbling and fist pumping circles the bases after pulling an Eckersley slider over the right field fence at Chavez Ravine/Dodgers Stadium. The 9th inning, 2 outs, walk off home run by Kirk Gibson was instrumental in the Dodgers run to the 1988 World Series title.
All Star Game, 1970. Cincinnati Reds All Star Pete Rose rounds third base with a head of steam heading for home plate. Cleveland Indians All Star Ray Fosse is the catcher at home plate awaiting a throw from the relay man. Rose, in a controversial play that still resonates with some, bowls over Fosse and scores the winning run in the bottom of the 12th inning. It was a hustle play and, at that point in baseball, a legal play.
Game 6, 1986 World Series. Oh boy, this is a tough one to write about. Boston Red Sox were 1 out away from their first World Series title since 1918. The Mets were a resilient bunch and refused to just hand the Sox a trophy. Down in counts, down in the game, the Mets continued to hit singles and walk and drive in runs. Bob Stanley came in close out the game for the Sox, who upon his entry had a 5-4 lead. Mookie Wilson, a speedy Mets left handed hitter, came to the plate. After a passed ball brought in Kevin Mitchell to tie the game at 5-5, one base runner remained – Ray Knight at 2nd base. Wilson hit a routine ground ball just to the right of the first base bag and it trickled helplessly through the legs of former All Star Bill Buckner. Knight scored, the Mets won Game 6, then went on to win Game 7 and the 1986 World Series. (Give me a moment to wipe the tears off the keyboard.)
Game 3, 2003 ALCS, Boston. In an ugly chapter of Boston Red Sox and New York Yankee history, the benches cleared and a massive brawl ensued after each team threw purposely at batters. Pedro Martinez and Roger Clemens, two of the great pitchers in baseball history, threw high and tight and apparently too close for comfort. Benches of players and coaches from the Sox and Yankees flooded onto the playing field to yell and jaw at each other. In a singular moment, Don Zimmer (72 years old at the time) came across the home plate area to face Pedro Martinez and confront him physically. Pedro grabbed Zimmer and threw him to the ground. It was shocking and uncomfortable to watch. Moments later, the fight stopped. In the end, the Yankees defeated the Red Sox to advance to the 2003 World Series, which they would lose to the Florida Marlins.
Stay tuned for more baseball stories told through baseball cards.