Posts Tagged ‘Attic of Appreciation’

peaches and herb

January 5, 2011

Five out of four dentists agree that this 1975 Topps baseball card of Herb Washington is so sweet that it will likely cause cavities. In my opinion, if you can’t agree that this is one of THE finest baseball cards ever produced, you are in the wrong hobby. (Yes present day Topps staff members, I am suggesting that it is time for you to take a break from your calculated hijinx in order to shake your groove things.)

Herb Washington (1975 Topps no. 407)

Also in my opinion, the only thing that could possibly improve “Hurricane” Herb’s baseball card was to get it autographed… which I did… thru the mail. It took a while to get back, but eventually the card and I were “Reunited.” It was so worth the wait.

Washington is such a nice guy! It appears that he offered to show up early before the fans got to the ballpark to have his photo taken for his baseball card. When he noticed the photographer backing up to squeeze his entire body into the frame, Herb obviously stopped him, saying, “It’s cool… I’ll just lean forward like I’m thinking about making a break for second base.” Fun time!

–  Kris

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big daddy comes home

March 18, 2009

The newest inductee to the Aardvark Attic of Appreciation is none other than Quincy, Illinois native Rick “Big Daddy” Reuschel. While pitching for the Chicago Cubs, Rick and his older brother Paul once combined to shut out the Los Angeles Dodgers 7 to 0, and remain the only siblings to have pulled off such a feat in the history of Major League Baseball. Just a couple of farm boys tossing a ball in the sun! How kool is baseball?

That infamous combined shutout was hurled on August 21, 1975, providing me with the only excuse I need to post a scan of Rick’s 1975 Topps baseball card (no. 153) that he recently autographed and dropped into the mail for me.

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Reuschel spent 19 years in baseball, compiling a record of 214-191 in 557 games. More than a quarter of Rick’s 102 career complete games were shutouts. Reuschel’s career essentially had two phases. First, pitching for the Cubs, Rick won at least 10 games each season from 1972 thru 1980. Rick then returned from a rotator cuff injury that many felt would end his career in the early 1980s and pitched effectively in New York, Pittsburgh and San Francisco before hanging up his leather glove between his pair of gold ones and returning to the farm.

Rick Reuschel is scheduled to celebrate his 60th birthday on May 16, 2009. If you aren’t doing anything, you should send him a card and wish him well. I recommend including this one (as well as an SASE obviously).

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– Kris

the blair paul project

March 10, 2009

The relatively quiet walls of the Aardvark Attic of Appreciation will no longer be the same with the addition of the newest inductee… Paul “Motormouth” Blair. Given that Blair was one of my favorite Orioles when I began following professional baseball during the mid 70s, it was a bitter pill to swallow when he was traded to the Evil Empire as that decade came to an end.

After striking out in his only official at bat over 8 games played for the Birds during 1964, Blair broke into the majors in 1965, due mostly for his defensive abilities. Obviously his contributions in 1964 were enough to warrant his rookie appearance in the 1965 Topps set.

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I recently decided to begin pulling together a set of 1965 Topps baseball cards to help commemorate the annual anniversary of my birth. I also find the 1965 set to be one of the more visually pleasing Topps sets and believe it will prove fun to accumulate. Unfortunately, I didn’t have Paul’s rookie card when I sent him a letter earlier this year. Instead, I included this 2001 Topps Archives card (no. 270) that was inspired by his rookie offering, and asked if he wouldn’t mind autographing it. Apparently he had no issues with my request.

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Paul Blair’s career stats are only a click away, but I feel it is worth mentioning that the man owns FOUR World Series rings. Blair contributed heavily to the Orioles 1966 sweep of the Los Angeles Dodgers for the World’s Crown. His solo homer off Claude Osteen proved the Game Three winner. Paul also reportedly robbed Jim Lefebvre of a dinger in the eighth inning in the final game of the Series that the Birds won by a final of one to nada.

The two-time All-Star also autographed his card (no. 275) from my 1975 Topps set. What a pro- he even used a blue Sharpie!

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I also appreciate the fact that Paul Blair was regarded as being one of the top bunters in baseball during his day. Any player who consistently sacrifices himself for his teammates is likely destined for a warm reception in the Attic. That he won enough Gold Gloves to help keep a caterpillar warm in winter didn’t hurt Paul in the nomination process either. I’m always impressed when a player (either current or retired) takes the time out of their schedule to autograph one or two of my baseball cards.

– Kris

one cookie per customer

February 26, 2009

I actually met Cookie Rojas once in the mid 70s while attending a large sporting goods convention with my father. I had no idea that Cookie was going to be there, so I wasn’t carrying any of his cards with me for autographing. Luckily, he had a supply of photographs with him, and signed one for me. He seemed like a very nice guy.

Born Octavio Victor Rojas Rivas in Cuba, “Cookie” is set to turn 70 on March 6th of this year. I had heard that Cookie no longer signed autographs- especially thru the mail. I didn’t find this impossible to believe given that the last time I had seen him on television, he was all fired up and giving umpire Charlie Williams a piece of his mind following a call during the 1999 playoffs. I was convinced that Williams had made the correct call, and I remember thinking that Cookie might burst a vein if he didn’t calm down. Cookie ended up getting suspended for a handful of games for shoving Williams.

Still, I wanted to have my 1975 Topps Cookie Rojas baseball card autographed… What to do? After expending a considerable amount of time running several different scenarios through my brain, I decided to send Cookie the card and a nice, short letter. I figured the worst thing that could happen would be for Cookie to toss my card(s*) into the trash after beating up his mailman for bringing him an autograph request. (*Okay, I also included Cookie’s 1974 Topps card under the 1975 card because I am a glutton for punishment.)

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Apparently thinking that the facsimile signature provided by Topps was “good enough,” Cookie autographed the 1974 card, and returned the 1975 unsigned. So do I ban Cookie Rojas from the Aardvark Attic of Appreciation because he failed to sign both cards? Not a chance! I think the five-time All-Star was a stellar player, makes a fantastic coach and probably was even an outstanding scout. (I’m just not sure how one measures a scout’s ability.) I appreciate the fact that he bothered to even sign one of my cards. Thus, he’s “in!” I will just wait until next off-season and resend him the 1975 card and nothing else.

Did you know that Cookie once appeared at every position on the field during a game while play for the Phillies? That is one kool Cookie!

born in a small town

February 20, 2009

The patch sewn onto his work shirt read “Marion,” but he was always “Mr. Burcham” to me. Marion P. Burcham earned the distinction of becoming the first non-baseball player inducted into the Aardvark Attic of Appreciation, predominately for the role he played during the formative years of my baseball card collecting. Unfortunately, the honor must be awarded posthumously as Mr. Burcham passed away on March 17, 2007 at the age of 96.

I had been kicking around this idea to write about Mr. Burcham for quite a while, being of the opinion that it is important to remember real people and celebrate their contributions made to our society, while reflecting on how these true heroes stand firm in stark contrast to the transparent greed, corruption and scandalous behavior that is commonplace amongst our leaders and favorite sports heroes. I also hope that you will read between the lines in order to take away from this article, the importance of having access to a physical location to purchase trading cards rather then relying entirely on interweb dealings with people who might just as well be numbers. This is especially true for the younger collectors.

Marion Burcham was the owner of the Sunoco Service Station in Toulon, the diminutive, west-central Illinois town of that served as the backdrop of my childhood. One of less than a handful of businesses in town that sold gasoline, the Sunoco station was our Mecca. The candy case within- our shrine. Mr. Burcham was believed by many to be some sort of wizard, always managing to have that old case stocked with best selection of candies and trading cards in town.

Of course, Mr. Burcham didn’t JUST deal in candy. Practically any issue we encountered with our bicycles- handlebars requiring adjustment, a chain dropped off the gear sprocket or a flat tire, could be cured with a quick trip to the Sunoco station. Far from instinctual, this behavior was learned from having watched Mr. Burcham help keep our fathers’ automobiles on the road year after year.

Believe it or not, a time existed in this country when you could pull your car into a filling station, and an actual person would greet you at the pump and begin servicing your vehicle. In my opinion, Mr. Burcham blew the doors off the competition. He would check the oil, give the engine a good look to make sure everything was working properly, inspect all four tires for excessive wear and proper air pressure, and literally scrub the windshield leaving it showroom clean- all while filling the gas tank. Most importantly, he performed these services, and probably many that I was unaware of, all with a friendly smile on his face. Plus, you only paid for the gas, and possibly the motor oil if your car needed more than half a quart.

Kids flocked to the Sunoco station after school in an effort to spoil pending dinners. The candy case, which doubled as Mr. Burcham’s checkout counter, was constructed largely of glass, wood that had once been painted yellow and more glass. The glass was instrumental to the success of the case as it allowed customers to conduct preliminary shopping while Mr. Burcham was busy servicing a car. One of the fabulous things about Mr. Burcham was that he would excuse himself from his grownup customers long enough to run in and make sure the kids were taken care of as quickly as possible. He knew that we had BIG things to get done, such as playing a game of ball, trading cards, or riding our bikes down to Indian Creek to throw stuff off the bridge.

As luck would have it, I recently obtained a photograph from Mr. Burcham’s son after explaining that I wanted to share it with my readers. As an unexpected bonus, “John” also provided me with a number of very interesting stories about his father and the service station ranging from everyday business practices to intriguing accounts of robberies and fraud. That these things had gone on in a town where few people locked their doors was unimaginable!

I selected the 1976 Topps style baseball card to “frame” Mr. Burcham’s photo due to the fact that the bicentennial took center stage in middle America. It was also the year that I made the most trips to the Sunoco station.

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In 1976, kids could, and DID, purchase baseball cards in mom and pop grocery stores and gas stations similar to the Sunoco station all across America. It wasn’t easy saving money that I got for Christmas or my birthday, but I did because I wanted to buy baseball cards when they came out in the spring. Every instance when I found a dime on the ground, or got paid for doing lawn work around town resulted in a trip to the Sunoco station. I was addicted to baseball cards! I was never really tempted by the packages of Chuckles or Snickers candy bars even on the days when I was informed that the new supply of cards had not yet been delivered. Disappointed, but not wanting to leave empty-handed, I would usually pick up a few pieces of Bazooka bubble gum, or a package of five baseball-shaped gumballs that I think were produced by Fleer.

Besides exhibiting the patience of a saint, Mr. Burcham was also extremely generous. He provided free coffee for customers 364 days per year, and for the town cop 365 nights per year. More than once, I found myself sitting in the middle of the back seat of the family roadster, flanked by my older brother and sister who held the luxurious window seats as my father informed Mr. Burcham that we were off to visit the grandparents for the weekend. As if sensing the grueling three-hour trip I was about to endure, Mr. Burcham would silently pass me a few packs of baseball cards through the window as if they were a Styrofoam cup of free coffee. The man understood his customers!

During any random lazy, dog day afternoon I could walk into the Sunoco station, purchase 50 cents worth of baseball cards, hand Mr. Burcham two quarters and receive either a dime or a dime and a nickel in change. If your transaction worked out so that you purchased the last pack in the box, you took the box with you. If you purchased the next to last pack in the box, you generally walked home with not only the box, but also an extra pack of cards. It was a beautiful system! For years, I couldn’t imagine buying cards anywhere else.

While the majority of the world lived in fear during the summer of 1979 that “Skylab,” the first United States space station, was going to plummet from the heavens and crash into their house, Mr. Burcham stepped up to the plate and painted a target on the ground over one of his buried gas tanks. Similar to a knight called upon to fight a dragon threatening a village in mythical times, he was more than willing to take one for the team if necessary. It is the sort of gesture that is hard to forget.

The Sunoco station closed a few years later, having been purchased by the State Bank of Toulon. It seemed that the entire county turned out to watch the demolition of the old fortress, but here I will admit that time might be playing tricks with my memory. I’m sure that those people who feared change had either stayed home or were sticking to their normal routine, but everyone else was there. It was a surreal day that I really never wrapped my head around.

As proof that my personal memories weren’t clouded from my addiction to baseball cards that he supplied, Marion Burcham received what is arguably the highest recognition in the area when he was selected to serve as the Stark County Old Settlers badge honoree during the annual celebration in 1999.

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Born during the summer of 1910, Marion would have only been two years old when the Old Settlers Association dedicated the monument to the Stark County pioneers that still stands on the courthouse lawn. The monument was also dedicated to Stephen A. Douglas and Abraham Lincoln, both of whom had delivered speeches near that spot on successive days during fall of 1858. It would have been interesting to have heard the speech that Mr. Burcham delivered a decade ago, or to read a transcript of it today.

Completely unrelated, as far as I know, is that I didn’t spend more than ten bucks on baseball cards between the years of 1982 and 1999, the time between the demolition of the Sunoco station and Mr. Burcham’s Old Settlers speech.

– Kris

Special thanks to John Burcham and Jason Musselman for taking time from their busy schedules to provide me with the photos of Marion manning the candy case and the 1999 Old Settlers badge respectively.

mad about al

February 15, 2009

Making a list of the most colorful baseball players of all time? Don’t you dare forget Al Hrabosky! Sure, there have been a number of “better” closers in the history of baseball, but if I had been in charge of fielding a professional baseball team to entertain a stadium filled with fans, I would have made sure I had the Mad Hungarian stewing out in the bullpen ready to charge the mound.

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The outlandish colors of Hrabosky’s 1975 Topps card (no. 122) are perfectly suited to help celebrate the portion of Al’s career when he was on the top of his game. Besides, I absolutely love the 1975 Topps set.

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After considering a number of Hrabosky’s baseball cards to send for autographing to help document his induction into the Aardvark Attic of Appreciation, I settled on this 2001 Topps Archives card (no. 380) that depicts Al near the end of his career on the field.

The storybook continued as Al became one of the most well liked color commentators among St. Louis Cardinals fans, a post he has held for the quarter of a century.

Although I’ve heard that Hrabosky will sometimes sign three items sent “TTM,” I would caution that even long distance graphers not push the envelope by sending more than two. I, for one, would not want to make this particular fireballer angry! Furthermore, next time I’m in St. Louis, I plan on stopping into Al Hrabosky’s bar for a beer.

– Kris

today’s word?… the BIRD

February 13, 2009

One of the things that I enjoy most about writing for this blog is the fact that it is absolutely adored by the smartest and most sophisticated people surfing the internet today. I’m not sure why that is. Perhaps it is your fascination with the methods I employ in the stringing together the simplest of words. Beyond that, who doesn’t enjoy a good train wreck?

Being so smart, I’m sure that you figured out from the title that this blog entry is dedicated to Mark Fidrych. Easily named the American League Rookie of the Year in 1976, while just missing out on the Cy Young award that was awarded to Jim Palmer, “The Bird” was out of major league baseball by 1980. I wonder if his short career had anything to do with his pitching back-to-back, complete 11-inning games his rookie season, beating the Brewers and Rangers in succession. The Bird twirled two-dozen complete games in 1976, and a total of 34 complete games in 54 career starts. Even Andy Warhol must have been impressed by the young man’s work ethic.

Although Fidrych’s stats are impressive, it was his character that sealed his spot in the Aardvark Attic of Appreciation. I am pleased to announce that Mark was gracious enough to autograph two cardboard plaques to be placed on permanent display in his honor.

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This 2001 Topps Archives card (no. 302 of 450) celebrates The Bird having beaten Vida Blue by a mere percentage point to be named the American League ERA leader in 1976.

As serious of a business that baseball is, it is refreshing when a player appears on the scene and reminds fans that it is also okay to enjoy what you do. If you just relocated here from the moon and haven’t seen clips of Mark talking to a baseball while on the mound, do yourself a favor and seek them out online. There is an interesting Mark Fidrych interview available on YouTube worth watching if you don’t have too many issues with Steve Stone.

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Another 2001 Topps Archives card (no. 379 of 450) featuring Mark Fidrych depicts him at the end of his career in the bigs. TTM graphers should note that Mark prefers to sign autographs using a ballpoint pen.

It has been reported that rookie sensation Mark Fidrych once pondered out loud whether or not he could reply to all of his fan mail since he only earned $16,500, the league minimum. So keep that in mind if you decide to request an autograph from Mark thru the mail. Be sure to include a self-addressed stamped envelope!

One of my favorite quotes attributed to Mark Fidrych is “Sometimes I get lazy and let the dishes stack up, but they don’t stack too high. I’ve only got four dishes.” Mark’s autobiography, No Big Deal, is available online and probably through your local library’s interlibrary loan program.

– Kris

the “bogalusa bomber”

January 29, 2009

When I recently informed you trusty readers that I had embarked on a late winter’s mission of contacting retired players by mail, you probably had your fingers crossed that the Aardvark Attic of Appreciation would not snub Leslie Charles Spikes. The truth of the matter is that Charlie Spikes was one of the first players I pulled cards for. If pressed to name what I consider the top ten specimens from the 1975 Topps baseball set, this card (no 135) would be a no brainer.

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I will take the liberty of assuming that since the envelope that “Charlie” returned my cards in was postmarked on January 24th, that he probably autographed them using a brand new Sharpie that he received as a gift for his 58th birthday the day before.

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It is unfortunate that Topps failed miserably in the quality control of their cards during the mid 70s. Had I been in charge, I would have hired Charlie’s barber to oversee the slicing up of the card sheets given his obvious steady hands and attention to detail. As horribly-“aligned” as this 1974 card (no. 58) is, I am pleased that since I have it autographed, I have no need of searching for a better one.

Charlie appeared in some 670 games during the 9 seasons he spent in the major leagues playing for New York (AL), Cleveland, Detroit and Atlanta. Although Spikes led the Tribe with 23 homeruns in 1973, 1974 proved to be the Year of the Spike, as Charlie hit .271 over 568 at bats and drove in 80 runs. More that a quarter of those RBIs were the direct result of Spikes sending fans sitting in outfield seats home with smiles on their faces and the souvenir of a lifetime held proudly in their fists.

The Bogalusa Bomber’s numbers began declining immediately under the watchful eye of Frank Robinson at the onset of the 1975 season, and he really never regained his form. After playing time was reduced to almost nothing, Charlie retired from the game upon the conclusion of the 1980 season.

Life after baseball for Spikes included working in a textile factory until a back injury forced him onto the disabled list for good. Charlie still calls his birthplace- Bogalusa, Louisiana, “home.” Bogalusa is also the birthplace of legendary Big Easy pianist Professor Longhair.

– Kris

twice in a blue moon

January 24, 2009

If one can believe what they read on the internets, it would appear that John “Blue Moon” Odom’s intriguing nickname originated from one of his grade-school buddies named Joe Morris. As the story goes, Joe came up with the nickname because John’s round face reminded him of the moon. I failed to uncover any evidence suggesting that Joe Morris was ever tagged with an interesting nickname.

It would be an understatement to say that Odom was a dominating high school pitcher in the early 1960s given his 42-2 record and the fact that he hurled eight no-hitters. Major league hitters proved to be a little more challenging to “Blue Moon” during his 13-year career with the Kansas City and Oakland A’s, Chicago White Sox and Atlanta Braves (1964-1976). Still, Odom managed to take a no-no into the 9th inning of the first game of a doubleheader against the Baltimore Orioles on June 7, 1968 only to have it broken up by Davey Johnson with a two-out single. Doesn’t it seem like that is always how it goes? “Blue Moon” combined with White Sox reliever Francisco Barios to no hit the Oakland A’s on July 18, 1976 to record the final victory of his colorful professional baseball career.

I wish the Major League Baseball channel would broadcast one of the games Odom pitched so viewers could be truly entertained- especially if they selected a game in which he swatted one of his dozen career home runs. (That’s right!)

One of the things I wanted to accomplish this off-season was to get some letters written and sent out to ballplayers I admired as a kid to thank them for their contributions to the greatest game ever played. If I was going to make the effort, I figured I might as well include a couple of their cards from my collection- just in case my letter caught them in a signing mood. When I finally got my act together, John “Blue Moon” Odom was one of the players at the top of my list.

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It is no secret that the 1975 Topps baseball cards are my favorites. As much as I liked John’s card (no. 69) before, I appreciate it ten-fold more now that he has taken the time to add his signature and mail it back to me. I would have preferred to have met him in person, but there was no telling how many stars would have to be in perfect alignment in order to make something like that even remotely possible. I suppose I could have sent him a couple of shiny stickers and asked him to sign his name on them so I could stick them anywhere on the cards that I pleased. I guess that is all the rage amongst kids today, but I might have misunderstood what that is all about.

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I probably have mentioned this previously, but when I study a baseball card, one of the things I think about is how it would look autographed. In my opinion, regardless of how nice a baseball card looks, it could be improved with an on-card autograph. Furthermore, until it has been signed by the player(s) depicted on it, the card isn’t “complete.” I had no doubt that “Blue Moon’s” 1974 Topps card (no. 461) would look fantastic with the addition of his John Odom. I couldn’t be more pleased with the result of the signature of the two-time All-Star pitcher, and like to imagine that he had to remove at least one of his THREE World Series rings in order to grip the Sharpie firmly with his fingers before signing.

Given the well-publicized fight between John “Blue Moon” Odom and Rollie Fingers just before the 1974 World Series, I dare say that John wouldn’t have bothered to sign my cards if he didn’t want to. He could have just as easily taken the cards I sent him and stuck them onto the spokes of his chopper, and recycled my SASE in order to take advantage of the free postage to send in his cable bill- and nobody would have said a peep. But John is a great guy, and seems to appreciate his fans.

Welcome John “Blue Moon” Odom to the Aardvark Attic of Appreciation!

– Kris