Ellis Valentine: Humanitarian

Fans of ‘80s baseball remember Ellis Valentine. He had an absolute cannon in right field for the Expos and was part of an incredibly talented outfield trio that featured, at various points, Tim Raines, Andre Dawson, Warren Cromartie, Ron LeFlore and others.

Substance problems derailed his career somewhat but I recently ran across this story and had to share it. Based on this report from WFAA-TV, Ellis Valentine is still a star.

All-’80s Baseball Hoops Team

It’s NCAA Basketball tournament time and that can mean only one thing: Baseball!

Not only were the ‘80s a great decade for baseball, you could make a pretty solid hoops team from guys who played baseball in the 1980s. Here’s our team:

Point Guard: Tony Gwynn

Not only was Tony Gwynn one of the top hitters in baseball history, he was also a pretty good hoopster. Tony actually skipped the baseball season in his freshman year at San Diego State to focus on basketball. During his time at SDSU he set the single game, single season and career assist record and in addition to being drafted by the Padres, he was also selected by the San Diego Clippers in the NBA Draft.

Shooting Guard: Danny Ainge

This is a pretty easy selection. Danny didn’t hit much in his time with the Toronto Blue Jays, but he did OK once he switched to basketball full-time. He finished his career with nearly 12,000 points, more than 4,000 assists and two NBA championships. He also authored one of the great moments in NCAA tournament history.

Small Forward: Ron Reed

Reed’s path was the opposite of Danny Ainge. After a standout career at Notre Dame, the 6-5 Reed was drafted in the 3rd round of the 1965 NBA draft by the Detroit Pistons. He spent two season in the NBA, scoring just shy of 1,000 points. Before Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders, Reed was playing two professional sports at the same time. After finishing the 1966 NBA season, he pitched in two games for the Braves and went back to the Pistons.

Power Forward: Dave Winfield

Winfield was just a phenomenal athlete. In addition to being a Hall of Fame baseball player, he was also a stud basketball player at the University of Minnesota. Over the course of his career, he averaged 10.4 points and 6.7 rebounds per game and was drafted by both the Atlanta Hawks of the NBA and the Utah Stars of the ABA. Had he chosen the ABA, he could have teamed up with Moses Malone to form a pretty solid frontcourt.

Center: Tim Stoddard

Stoddard won a state title in high school, where he teamed up with future NBA player Junior Bridgeman, and then went to N.C. State where he teamed up with David Thompson and won an NCAA title by knocking off Bill Walton and UCLA. Not too shabby.

6th Man: Frank Howard

OK, Frank Howard was a coach in 1980, but he was also an incredibly talented basketball player. Howard went to Ohio State where he was an All-American in baseball and basketball in the 1950s. In a holiday tournament at Madison Square Garden, Howard once grabbed 32 rebounds in a single game.  In addition to being drafted to play major league baseball, he also was drafted by the Philadelphia Warriors, which means he and Wilt Chamberlain could have potentially been twin towers in the NBA, predating Sampson and Olajuwon by decades.

Dream Season: George Brett

Every player longs for that dream season. The one where they stay healthy and just produce. I’m going to crunch the numbers and create dream seasons for notable 1980s stars. Next up is George Brett.

March/April 1983

There are quick starts and then there’s the jump George Brett got on the 1983 season. In the first week of the year, Brett hit .440 with a homer and 4 RBI. Then he got hot. He finished April with a .460 batting average, 5 homers and 20 RBI.

May 1979

Compared to April of ’83, Brett’s 1979 May was somewhat pedestrian. For a mortal, though, it was still a helluva month. How about sixteen multi-hit games, including a 5-7 effort against the Orioles on May 28th? Imagine posting 16 multi-hit games in a month and it not being the best month of your career. In May of 1979, Brett hit .388 with 5 homers and 20 RBI.

June 1982

In June of 1982, George Brett played in 27 games. He had at least one hit in 23 of them. He entered the month hitting .278 and finished the month hitting .317. It’s not easy to raise your batting average 39 points in mid-season but for George Brett, it’s no big deal. For the month, he hit .379 with 5 homers and 16 RBI.

July 1985

One of the things that are tougher than raising your batting average by 39 points in June is raising it by 31 points in July. That’s exactly what George Brett did in July of 1985, thanks in part to six different 3-hit games. Brett opened the month by going 8-12 with 2 homers and 8 RBI in a three-game series against Oakland and finished the month going 4-9 against Detroit. The final numbers? A cool .432 batting average with 7 homers and 24 RBI.

August 1980

Brett had his best season in 1980, batting .390 and winning the MVP. On August 17th at home against the Blue Jays, he wrapped up a three-game series by going 4-4 to raise his batting average to .401. He would flirt with the .400 mark for a month before fading at the end of the year but for that month he was on fire, hitting .430 with 6 homers and 30 RBI.

September/October 1981

It’s important to have a strong finish to your season and Brett certainly did that in 1981. Fourteen multi-hit games, five three-hit games and a .362 batting average with 3 homers and 20 RBI is a nice way to wrap up your year.

The Totals:

Add it all up and the totals for George Brett’s dream season look pretty good. He ends up hitting .404 with 31 homers and 130 RBI.

One of the most amazing things I saw when putting this together was the months that DIDN’T make the cut. Over the course of his career, George Brett had 17 different months in which he hit .350 or better.

I also intentionally used only one month from 1980 just to mix things up a bit. If you use his June, July & August numbers from 1980, Brett’s dream season batting average jumps to .423.

Dream Season: Mike Schmidt

Every player longs for that dream season. The one where they stay healthy and just produce. I’m going to crunch the numbers and create dream seasons for notable 1980s stars. We’ll start with Mike Schmidt.

April 1986

Schmitty had some slow starts, but his final season was not among them. He went 2-4 with a homer off Mario Soto on Opening Day and kept going. Not a huge power month, but the batting average was solid. He ended April hitting .328 with 5 homers and 19 RBI with 10 runs scored. A great way to kick off the season.

May 1980

The Phillies first World Series season was Mike Schmidt‘s finest season as well and May was a huge month. Philadelphia entered May already 4.5 games behind in the National League East but by the end of the month, they were back in it. Schmidt hit .305 with 12 homers and 29 RBI to earn Player of the Month honors. His teammate Steve Carlton also had a pretty good month, going 6-1 with a 1.88 E.R.A. and was named Pitcher of the Month.

June 1977

After leading the National League in home runs for three consecutive seasons, Schmidt finished 4th in 1977, but he still hit 38 dingers and drove in 101 runs. He also raised his batting average and cut down on his strikeouts. In June, Schmitty hit .318 with 14 homers and 28 RBI.   His biggest day came on June 10th against Atlanta when he went 3-4 with two homers and 5 RBI, one of two multi-homer games that month.

July 1979

Once Pete Rose came to the Phillies, Schmidt’s career really took off. He hit 40 homers for the first time in 1979 and his July was something to remember. Mike hit .354 with 13 homers and drove in 32 runs in 28 games. During a four-game series against the San Francisco Giants from July 6-9 at The Vet, Schmidt went 8-14 with 6 homers and 13 RBI. The Giants never knew what hit ’em.

August 1981

Among the many tragedies of the strike season was what it took away from Mike Schmidt. He won his second consecutive MVP award that season and also had the best single-season batting average of his career, batting .316. When the players finally got back on the field Schmitty went off, hitting .380 with 9 homers and 24 RBI in 20 games.

September/October 1980

The stretch run in 1980 is something no Phillies phan will ever forget and Mike Schmidt played a huge role. For the month, he hit .298 with 13 homers and 28 RBI, but there’s one homer that stands out above the rest. On the next to last day of the season, his 11th inning homer in Montreal gave the Phillies the N.L. East division crown.

The Totals:

When you put it all together, it doesn’t look too bad. In Mike Schmidt’s dream season he hit .327 with 66 homers and 160 RBI while scoring 118 runs. I’ll take that.

Gorman Texas Ranger

“They know when to cheer and they know when to boo. And then know when to drink beer. They do it all the time.” –Gorman Thomas on Brewers fans

There are players who will always be associated with certain franchises. Gorman Thomas is one of those players. He spent time in Cleveland and Seattle, but Gorman will always be a Brewer.

One thing I didn’t realize until recently is that, for a brief time, Gorman Thomas was a Texas Ranger.

Thomas was a first-round draft pick in 1969 but he hadn’t been able to put it together at the major league level. He struggled in his first four seasons, hitting just .193 in 668 at-bats. By 1977, there were indications that Thomas may be the classic AAAA player. Too good for AAA but not good enough for the big leagues. He spent the entire season at AAA Spokane, where he hit .322 with 36 homers and 114 RBI. No one doubted his power but there were questions about his batting average and his propensity to strike out a lot. Then something strange happend.

On August 20th of 1977, the Texas Rangers were in a pennant race and needed to clear a roster spot to call up pitcher Len Barker, so they swapped Ed Kirkpatrick to the Brewers for a player to be named later.

Kirkpatrick served the Brewers well, batting .273 in 29 games but the timing of the move was odd. Why would the Brewers acquire a 16-year vet with a .188 batting average when they were 21 games off the pace? It wasn’t the kind of deal a team makes with an eye on the future.

Player to Be Named Later

“The Milwaukee Brewers officially gave up on Gorman Thomas Tuesday when they sent the once highly promising outfielder to the Texas Rangers.”

-Green Bay Press-Gazette ·  Oct 26, 1977

If trading for Ed Kirkpatrick in August en route to a 95 loss season didn’t make much sense, then sending a prospect, albeit struggling one, to complete the deal made even less sense.

Adding to the intrigue was that Thomas didn’t ever hear from the Rangers until December. “You always hear these stories about being traded. It was my first time and I didn’t hear a thing,” he said. “No ‘Good-Bye, it’s been nice knowing you’ or ‘Hello, it’s nice to see you.’ I felt like a batboy being switched around.”

Be that as it may, the Rangers had to be excited to get a young player with so much potential. Thomas was poised to put up big numbers in the Texas outfield for years to come. The Rangers were so happy to have Thomas that they went out and traded for Al Oliver, Bobby Bonds and Richie Zisk. By the beginning of February, the Rangers roster boasted eleven outfielders. Something was fishy.

No Place Like Home

As it turned out, Thomas’ stay in Texas was a short one. In February of 1978, the Rangers sold him back to Milwaukee. Immediately there were rumors of a side deal which were denied by both sides.

“I heard from (Texas general manager) Dan O’Brien that the Rangers were having trouble signing him and that their outfield situation had changed, ” said Brewers GM Harry Dalton, who wasn’t with Milwaukee when the original deal was made. “I don’t know anything about any arrangements when Thomas went to Texas.”

Gorman Thomas
Once a Brewer, always a Brewer

Back in Milwaukee, Gorman Thomas was a changed man. A Sporting News feature in spring training of 1978 noted that he was a lot more serious. He got married to a Milwaukee girl and had settled down.

Maybe it was the trade, maybe it was getting married or maybe it was maturing. Whatever it was, Thomas finally broke through.  After hitting .193 with 22 homers in his first four seasons with the Brewers, Thomas hit .246 with 32 homers in 1978.  He followed that up by becoming one of the top power hitters in the American League.

 

 

Best Baseball Weekend EVER

It was January of 1995 and Mike Schmidt had just been voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.  I distinctly remember coming home that day and my girlfriend, now wife, could sense I was a bit down. She asked me what was wrong and I told her I had always told myself I would go to Cooperstown when Schmitty got in but I didn’t think it was going to happen.

“Why not?” she asked.

“Because I can’t?” I said

“Why not?” she asked again.

That was pretty much all it took. That night, I called around and finally found a hotel that had a room on induction weekend. The only problem was it was in Utica, about an hour away, but I didn’t care. I was going.

Hitting the Road

In Late July, me and a friend we rented a car and took off from Clearwater, FL on our way to Cooperstown, a scant 1,200 miles away. We didn’t have cell phones or satellite radio, but we did bring a baseball encyclopedia and spent a good part of the trip quizzing each other on lineups and all kinds of other minutiae to pass the time.

The trip went off without a hitch until we reached our hotel. In a horrible rookie move, I hadn’t reserved the room with a credit card and they had given it to someone else. So here we were, 1000+ miles from home with no place to stay. Good times. I don’t remember how, but by some miracle we were able to get a room and settle in.

Off to the Hall

My friend, Bob, and I worked in television and we were doing a documentary about Richie Ashburn, who was also being inducted that weekend. We secured press credentials through the Phillies and went to the Hall to pick them up. As soon as we stepped outside someone offered to buy my press pin. Sorry, dude. No go. This was the big time. I was a credentialed member of a HOF Induction weekend about to see my guy go in.

Mike Schmidt
Schmidt Locker display at the Hall of Fame

It was fantastic. We cruised up and down the main drag in Cooperstown and went inside the museum shooting video for the documentary. After a long day we hopped in the car for the drive back to the hotel. When we got back all we had to do was charge the batteries for our equipment and we were all set. Except we weren’t.

When we plugged in the charger it started to spark and pop. Turns out we left it on the air conditioning unit in the hotel room and condensation had built up while it ran during the day.  Another rookie move by me. We tried to dry the charger without much luck and figured we’d let it air dry deal with it in the morning.

The Big Day

The main order of business on Induction Day was finding a place to plug in our charger. After a while, I found a security person and explained our predicament. Amazingly, the guy took us into a building and showed us a place where we could plug in. Second miracle of the day; there were no sparks, no pops and the lights indicated the batteries were charging. We were all set.

I breathed a sigh of relief. Then I looked around the room and was dumbfounded.

Me: “Um Bob? Is that Stan Musial over there talking to Yogi Berra?”

Bob: “Sure looks like it.”

Whoever we asked to help us had apparently shown us into the room where all the Hall of Famers hang out before the induction ceremony. Fanboy in me was thrilled, but I quickly realized the best way to get kicked out of there was to start running up to guys and bothering them.

I spotted Roy Smalley, who was working for ESPN at the time, explained we were working on a documentary about Ashburn and asked if he thought it would be OK to interview some of his contemporaries. He said he wasn’t sure but that it probably wasn’t a good idea. Smart guy.

MIke Schmidt
Schmidt delivers his induction seech

We eventually we found a place to shoot the ceremony and get a really good sunburn before attending the post-induction press conference where I got what I needed for my documentary.

It’s All Good

The trip was a success despite everything I did to ruin it. The next day we woke up in Utica and prepared to drive back to Florida. I told Bob I’d start driving and then we could switch but if he got tired I’d help him out. Shortly after Bob started driving I fell asleep and by the time I woke up we were just outside of Tampa. I’d been asleep for about 6 hours, maybe more.

The moral of the story? Marry a baseball fan, and NEVER drive long distances with me. I’ll bag you every time. I also never finished the documentary.

The Best of 2016 on ’80s Baseball

I started this blog 364 days ago. Since then, I’ve published 64 posts, including guest posts, for which I’m very grateful.

It’s been a great year and I thought I’d take a look back at the Top 5 posts of 2016 based (unscientifically) on page views.

Number 5: George Brett’s amazing 1980

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Brett was absolutely ridiculous in 1980 and this post tells the story of his remarkable season. If you’re going to hit .400, or even have a shot, it helps to have a summer like George Brett did in 1980.

 

Number 4: Schmidt and Brett in 1971

The Reds passed on a kid in their back yard. The Phillies snapped him up

The most important day of the 1980 baseball season may very well have taken place in 1971. One decision would have put Mike Schmidt in a Royals uniform and given the 1980 World Series a completely different look.

 

 

Number 3: Missed it by That Much: The Mike Parrott Story

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Mike Parrott was the opening day starter for the Seattle Mariners in 1980. Unfortunately for him, 1980 was just a horrible year, in more ways than one.

 

 

Number 2: You Forgot How Good J.R. Richard Was

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James Rodney Richard was absolutely dominant and 1980 was shaping up to be the best year of his career. Then tragedy struck and he never pitched again.

 

 

 

Number 1: Missed it By That Much: The Drungo Hazewood Story

<a rel=Drungo Hazewood had all the talent in the world. He was a can’t miss prospect for the Baltimore Orioles. Then he missed.

 

 

 

 

Thanks so much for reading and I look forward to 2017!

-J.D.

The Day I Worked for My Favorite Baseball Team (Oh, and I Was 13-Years-Old)

Note: The following is a guest post from Matt Sammon.

I had always liked sports as a kid, although I was far from athletic, or a kid who needed to play sports 365 days a year. While I played tee ball as a youngster, and later soccer and bowling, I was perfectly content with playing with my Legos and MASK toys indoors. But around the age of 10, my interest in sports went from casual to incredibly in-depth. I suddenly had an appreciation for the rules, the history, the players, the uniforms, you name it. I absorbed everything like a sponge. And when it came to baseball, I quickly adopted the Toronto Blue Jays as my favorite team.

This was in the late 1980s, and I was living in Tampa, Florida. I had no good reason to like the Jays, especially since they were about 2,000 miles away, but like most 10-year-olds it probably had something to do with the cool 70s unis they were still wearing in the late 80s. And while most kids gravitated towards the home run hitters as their favorite players, I gravitated towards pitcher Dave Stieb, who to this day I think is one of the most underrated pitchers of the era. In a time where fastballers like Roger Clemens and Dwight Gooden stole the spotlight, Stieb’s backdoor slider frustrated more than his fair share of batters.

A Magical Day

In 1991, I was able to go to a spring training game for the first time. I had been to many minor league games at Tampa’s Al Lopez Field before, but this was the first time I would see real live Major League players in front of my eyes. You have to remember before the internet, the only ways you saw your favorite team or players was on TV or in a stack of baseball cards. A family friend of ours drove me and my 11-year-old brother to Dunedin Stadium, where we would spend $6 (!) a ticket to watch the Jays play the Chicago White Sox.

Back then, the home clubhouse and dugout were on the 3rd base side, and in between the two on the end of the grandstand was a little “fan dugout” where fans could stand behind a chain linked fence to try to get autographs of players as they walked out to the field. Naturally, as a 13-year-old baseball nerd, I had my small binder of baseball cards ready to go. One of the first players to come out was the golden-mulleted Kelly Gruber, and while I was getting his autograph, a Blue Jays employee asked me how old I was. “Thirteen”, I said. The man then asked me, “Do you want to be a batboy today?”

I was stunned… this was totally unexpected. Of all the kids in that little space, why should I be the one that gets selected for such an honor? I replied, “Yeah… let me check…” My goodness, what a doofus. “Let me check?!?” Clearly I was in a state of shock. I wasn’t going to “check” with my adult guardian, I was going to tell him I was just selected to be a batboy and can you please hold on to my cards. He was as stunned as I was, and I dropped off my card book before making a beeline to the clubhouse.

Off to Work

So I’m in the clubhouse, and they give me a real spring training uniform. They give me a bag of baseballs, and tell me to sit down next to the White Sox dugout. I had no idea what to do. I had seen batboys before, and I had seen them retrieve a dropped bat, but I had never really watched what they did. So the staff informed me I had two jobs: 1) Retrieve and store the bats the players left at home plate, and 2) when the home plate umpire looked at me and put up some fingers, I was to give him that many new baseballs from the bag. Sounds simple, so of course, I screwed it up royally.

Matt was ready to go
Matt was ready to go

I quickly discovered the players not only didn’t have their names on the bat knobs, they didn’t even have their uniform numbers. It was the visitors’ dugout, so there were no name or even number plates on the bat rack. I asked White Sox manager Jeff Torborg what I should do with the used bats. “Ehhhhh… just lean up over there and the players will figure it out.” Suffice to say there was a pretty good stack of lumber rolling around one end of the dugout by the end of the game. But hey, at least I had a great seat to watch my favorite team and player that day. Stieb was starting, and in the first inning he caught Carlton Fisk looking with one of those backdoor sliders. The crowd goes wild, and I walk up to a retreating Fisk, waiting to take his bat and put it into the accumulating pile of unorganized bats. Fisk kept walking with his head down, gripping the bat. “Excuse me… Mr. Fisk… your bat…,” I weakly suggested. He wasn’t going to surrender, he kept walking. It was clear I was going to have to remove it from his cold dead hand.

Speaking of dead, Cory Snyder nearly decapitated me in the on-deck circle later in the game, as I heard the bat whiz next to my head while I was serving up new baseballs to the umpire. I could see the ump wince, and he told me I needed to be careful. In my dopey fan delirium, I said, “OK!”

Oldest Trick in the Book

A couple of members of the Jays’ staff saw the newbie barely getting by, and decided to have some fun. In the 5th or 6th inning, one of the staffers sat behind me and asked me to go to the Blue Jay dugout and “get the keys to the batter’s box”. Not even thinking, I went up and did it. The Jays’ players, and even manager Cito Gaston, played along. “Oh, I think the guys in the bullpen have the keys.” So of course, I jogged out to the bullpen in left field, all the while having White Sox players dig through a pile of bats and the home plate umpire getting his own baseballs. The bullpen played their part. “Are you sure they don’t have the keys in the dugout? Why don’t you go check again?” So I start heading back to the Jays dugout. “Nah, we don’t have them, we’ll look for them later.” So I trot back to my stool next to the dugout. Mission accomplished, the staffers say I did my best. Again, in my awestruck delirium, it never dawned on me that the batter’s box was the outlined box next to home plate. I totally crossed it up with the batter’s cage, which may or may not have needed keys but that was beyond the point.

jays2I don’t remember much else of the game, other than Stieb got the win as the Jays prevailed, probably because the Sox batters were using the wrong bats. Afterwards, I went back towards the clubhouse, where my guardian gave me my card book back. I changed back into my regular clothes and was “paid” with a fitted Blue Jays ball cap (which doesn’t fit, but I still have) and a cracked game-used Joe Carter bat (which I still have), thinking I was batboy of the year. Nobody showed me the way out of the clubhouse, back to the public area of the stadium. So as I’m wandering around trying to find a door, sitting in his locker stall still basking in the win was Stieb. My favorite player, right there, a chance for me to meet him face-to-face.

Fringe Benefits

jays1He was talking to his teammates, loudly, and cursing up a storm. Let me tell you, it’s a bit of a shock when you’re 13 and your favorite athlete is cursing up a storm, even if they are words you’ve heard and said before. Stieb saw me, said “Hey what’s up?”, and I introduced myself to him. I said I was a big fan, and I was happy he finally got that no-hitter the season before. Oh, and by the way, can you sign a couple of cards for me? Stieb obliged, signing a 1988 Topps and 1991 Donruss Diamond Kings (pack fresh!) on the spot. I thanked him, finally found an exit to the concourse, and went home.

That was over 25 years ago, yet I still remember it all like it was yesterday. Stieb’s last good season was 1991, as he developed arm problems in 1992. When the Jays finally won the World Series that year, I noticed Stieb was one of the first guys out of the dugout at Fulton County Stadium heading towards the celebration pile in the infield. The former outfielder-turned-pitcher finally could celebrate after so many close calls in his career. Several days later, he was released. The next season, he was with the White Sox, probably telling his teammates about that one spring training game he won because the batboy was looking for keys to the batter’s box.

Stieb won’t get into the Hall of Fame, and it still baffles me the Jays haven’t retired his number 37. For many years, he was often the only half-decent pitcher on the team. But even though he still doesn’t get the honor he deserves, I’ll always remember the day I got to see him pitch a gem of a game and meet him in person. And it’s a constant reminder to me that especially the little things like a hat, a bat, or an autograph can make a kid’s day… and life for many years.

 

ABOUT MATT SAMMON: Matt Sammon is the Director of Broadcasting for the Tampa Bay Lightning and currently roots for the Tampa Bay Rays. He can be found on Twitter @SammonSez.

That Time I Wrote George Bamberger

Note: This is a guest post from Christopher Zantow

I grew up in Wisconsin as a Milwaukee Brewers fan, but when I first started following the team in the mid-70’s, they were nothing to write home about.  I probably started paying attention when Hank Aaron decided to do his two-year farewell tour with the Brewers.  Beyond Hammerin’ Hank, they had a young kid named Robin Yount that didn’t quite look like he was ready for prime time just yet.

But everything changed in late 1977 when Bud Selig stepped in and cleaned house.  Newspapers called his actions “The Saturday Night Massacre.”  It sounded like a horror flick – but after all, he did axe the general manager, manager, and the entire coaching staff.  Selig hired Harry Dalton as GM, and in turn, Dalton hired George Bamberger to manage the club.  Suddenly fans had hope for something resembling a .500 team in 1978.  We were all about to be pleasantly surprised at what Dalton and Bamberger could do with our Brew Crew.

George Bamberger watches <a rel=

George Bamberger was different than previous managers and had higher aspirations than finishing 81-81.  Guys who came before him like Alex Grammas and Del Crandall also had long baseball careers, but Bambi was the pitching coach of the Baltimore Orioles for 10 years.  Yup – for the team that won a hatful of pennants and the 1970 World Series.  He turned the Milwaukee pitching staff around and it helped that his hitters started slugging homers and driving in runs like crazy.

You can well imagine the state of Wisconsin went nuts for “Bambi’s Bombers” after years of baseball futility.  My friends and I dug the team and got a huge kick out of watching Bamberger run things with that huge smile.  He fit in with Brewers fans too – especially since he was known to stop off at post-game tailgate parties in the County Stadium parking lot.

Spring Heart Attack

After proving the Crew could contend in the tough AL East with 95 wins in 1979, we all got ready for another great year in 1980.  Bamberger had a heart attack in spring training that March and wasn’t going to be around for the season opener.  He had a bypass surgery, was going to be hospitalized for a while, and it was expected he wouldn’t make it back into the dugout until June.

bambiLocal newspapers published where fans could write and wish Bamberger well.  I kept a Brewers scrapbook in 1979-80 that somehow survives to this day, and I was able to locate that article plus some updates as Bamberger recovered.  I remember asking my parents if I should write Bamberger, even though I figured he’d never see my letter.  But they said that I should write and help cheer Bambi up (although they probably thought he’d never see the letter either).

I have no idea exactly what I wrote, but I’m sure I wished Bambi well in recovering and coming back to the team.  I know for sure I didn’t ask for an autograph, so I was absolutely shocked a few weeks later when a photo arrived in the mail, complete with a message and signature.

bambi-photoBamberger thanked the “thousands of fans that wrote me” after his hospital release.  He also joked that “I’ve been cleared to drink all the beer I want.”  He went on to say that it wasn’t so much the beer itself that was a problem – it was the calories in the beer!

The eleven-year-old me learned that George Bamberger truly was a class act, and I’ve treasured that photo and memory ever since.

 

ABOUT CHRISTOPHER ZANTOW: By day, Chris is a writer of training and resource materials.  By night he’s finishing edits on a historical book about the Milwaukee Brewers. The book covers the backstory of eventsthat led to the Braves moving to Atlanta, and Bud Selig’s fight to bring baseball back to Milwaukee through numerous setbacks and disappointments and the early years of the new Milwaukee franchise. He blogs about the Brewers and can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Baseball Nivrana

I’ve been a collector for my entire life. You never know when you may need a 37-year-old pocket schedule and I don’t want to be unprepared. So I packed up my sons and headed to Chicago for the Fanatics Authentic Sports Spectacular.

The autograph section was busy all day
The autograph section was busy all day

One of the big draws of shows like this is the autograph pavilion. There are always lots of big names with big price tags attached.

Since I spent some time working in baseball I’m pretty spoiled and I don’t like to pay for autographs but there were obviously plenty of people who were there specifically for that. Some of the bigger names on hand included Hall of Famers Randy Johnson, John Smoltz, Cal Ripken, Fergie Jenkins and Billy Williams. There were also plenty of members of the 2016 Cubs.

But I had two things on my mind: Soak in as much atmosphere and cool stuff as I possibly could and work on my 1972 Topps set.

1972 Topps Baseball
My White Whale

Baseball cards form the bulk of my collection and my latest project is completing the 1972 set. It’s tough and expensive but I’m in no hurry. Had I been so inclined, I could have easily finished the set. There were multiple dealers there with binders of cards from 1972. The only thing stopping me was the expense of purchasing the cards and the expense of the subsequent divorce when I returned home.

 

Aside from filling want lists, one of the big attractions for me  was just taking in all the show had to offer. Going to a card show is like visiting a museum where everything is for sale. Click To Tweet

Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Hank Aaron &amp; Roberto Clemente
Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Hank Aaron & Roberto Clemente

The ’80s were well represented, too.

Steve Garvey, Leon Durham, Willie Stargell
Steve Garvey, Leon Durham, Willie Stargell

Fans of Olde Tyme Baseball had something to see.

1935 Goudey Lou Gehrig & Babe Ruth
Lou Gehrig & Babe Ruth

But my favorite part of shows like this is all the oddball stuff you can find.

Mickey Mantle & Willie Mays baseballs
Mickey Mantle & Willie Mays baseballs
1957 Milwaukee Braves Ashtray
1957 Milwaukee Braves Ashtray
1976 Phillies Phantom World Series Press Pin, 1970 Reds World Series Press Pin, 1980 All-Star Game Press Pin
1976 Phillies Phantom World Series Press Pin, 1970 Reds World Series Press Pin, 1980 All-Star Game Press Pin

It was an outstanding afternoon with my kids and a few of their buddies. My youngest son bought his first T206 card and my older son picked up some relic cards. I got a bit closer to finishing my ’72 set and picked up a signed Bill Madlock photo.

 

As we were preparing to leave, I spotted one last item, a signed Dickie Noles warm up jacket.

Dickie Noles warm up jacket
Dickie Noles warm up jacket

Noles holds a special place in my heart as it was his pitch up and in to George Brett in the 1980 World Series that signaled the beginning of the end of the Royals in the series. Kansas City fans probably have different feelings on Mr. Noles.

If you get the chance, I’d highly recommend attending a similar show near you. You never know what you’ll find.

1984 Topps Cello Packs
What I wouldn’t give to tear into these