Saturday, September 10, 2016

Antique Mall Mystery Pack: Braves

My trip to the Brass Armadillo Antique Mall in Denver happened almost a year ago. I got lots of good material out of it, so much that I'm still doing posts a year later. Including this one, there are three left, and we'll continue this long-running series with the Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves.

First off, a little trivia question. Who is the only player to play as a Boston Brave, Milwaukee Brave, and Atlanta Brave?

1994 Topps Archives 1954 #141 Joe Jay
I'll let you mull that one over for a while, but first, how about some 1954 Archives? This is easily my favorite Archives set, but I've yet to add anything from the actual '54 set to my collection. Joe Jay (who usually goes by Joey) was just a rookie in 1953, and had just a single start. It was a gem, though, a three-hit shutout against the Reds. He did most of his work out of the bullpen for his first four seasons, and didn't get much playing time until 1958.

Besides that excellent first start, Jay holds another claim to fame. He's the first Little Leaguer to make it to the major leagues, and "he shows amazing skill!" He was not actually in the Little League World Series, so he didn't make Night Owl's recent post, but he gave hope to millions of little kids across America, myself included.

1994 Topps Archives 1954 #176 Bob Keely
Coaches got cards in 1954 Topps, and Robert William Keely (full names on the back decades before Donruss did it) served as a coach and bullpen catcher for the Braves for twelve seasons. His Major League experience consisted of two lone games, one each in 1944 and 1945, when a lot of the league was away at war.

Coaches in those days wore a lot of hats, but he'd probably be considered a bullpen coach by today's definition. He served on the coaching staff in 1957 (his final year), which is the only time a World Series trophy has been brought home to Milwaukee. The Brewers haven't done it yet.

Last chance for guesses on that trivia question!

2003 Fleer Tradition #76 Eddie Mathews ML SP
Eddie Mathews, elected to the Hall of Fame in 1978, was the only player to call Boston, Milwaukee, and Atlanta home as a Brave.

This is a quasi-reprint card, which is based on Fleer's 1963 set. It commemorates the 40th anniversary of that iconic set, just like 1954 Archives did in 1994. Mathews didn't actually appear in that set, getting this "Missing Link" subset card forty years later. I wonder if Upper Deck will manage to pull anything off in 2029. Unlikely. Also, 40 years really isn't that long, is it?

Mathews was part of that 1957 Championship team, beating, well, I'll give you one guess on who they beat. And the card refers to him as a nine-time All Star, which was as correct in 1963 as it is today. His last appearance in the Midsummer Classic was in 1962.

You might think Mathews was a career Brave, seeing as he stuck with them long enough to call three cities home. But his production trailed off in the mid-1960s, and the Braves traded him to Houston in 1966, along with a guy named Arnold Umbach, plus Sandy Alomar, Sr., who was the Player To Be Named Later in that particular transaction. Both players the Braves got in return were out of the Majors by the end of 1967.

Mathews may have been past his prime, but he still had some baseball left in him. He passed the 500 home run milestone as an Astro in 1967 (hitting #500 off of Juan Marichal), then wrapped up his career in Detroit with his second World Series ring in 1968.

1995 Collector's Choice SE Silver Signature #142 Greg Maddux STL
The Braves have consistently fielded some truly amazing players, from Mathews and Aaron, to Maddux and Chipper. But the championships have always been hard to come by. The franchise has three, one in each city they called home. But despite dominating their division fourteen straight times from 1991-2005 (except for 1994, sorry Expos), they only had one World Series win to show for it.

Greg Maddux had a lot do to with that dominance. He was such an efficient pitcher that he now has an unofficial baseball stat named after him. When you pitch a complete game shutout with less than 100 pitches, you have thrown a Maddux.

Flip this Silver Signature parallel over and see for yourself. In the strike-shortened 1994 season, the best pitchers in baseball had an ERA of about 2.70. Bret Saberhagen was slightly above that, Steve Ontiveros a little below. Maddux blew them all out of the water with a 1.56 ERA, earning his third of four straight Cy Young awards in the process. Only Randy Johnson has matched that streak.

This was one of my favorite parallel sets in my early collecting days. I was always chasing a Gold Signature parallel, but didn't find one until many years later. I was also quite the fan of Topps Gold.

1994 Topps Gold #735 Terry Pendleton
Speaking of Topps Gold, I found one of those too! Like the Yankees pack, most of these Braves were actually in a binder page where I knew what I was getting. 1994s are a little tough to find (and even to see, if the light isn't right), but I have an eagle eye for these things.

Terry Pendleton, who appeared in one of my earliest posts, wasn't quite as dominant as Greg Maddux, but he did win the batting title and the NL MVP award in 1991, the first year of the Braves long run of division wins. And winning an NL batting title in the era of Tony Gwynn is no small feat.

1962 Topps #58 NL Win Leaders Warren Spahn / Joe Jay / Jim O'Toole
Finally, I'm still very, very slowly adding to my 1962 Topps collection. Warren Spahn, another Hall of Famer, tied for the NL lead in wins in 1961. As much as the game has changed since then, 20 wins in a season is still darn good. No Rockie has ever done it, but Ubaldo Jimenez missed the mark by just one in 2010.

Spahn gets the largest head on the front of this League Leaders card, even though Joe Jay is just as deserving. Yes, that's the same Joe(y) Jay we saw at the top of this post. He was traded to the Reds in 1960, a year before the Reds faced the Yankees (who else?) in the 1961 World Series. That Series was Jay's only appearance in the postseason, but perhaps as some consolation to losing to the Yankees and having a smaller head on this card than Spahn, Jay got listed first as a league leader on the card back.

The card looks a lot like a checklist, listing about fifty guys all the way down to just six wins. A lot of familiar names are on it, like Drysdale, Burdette, Podres, Koufax, Haddix, and Marichal. Even some lesser known players like Roy Face and Tony Cloninger appear in the second column.

The corners are a little beat up, but the printing itself is fine, front and back. It looks no worse than some of my 1987 Topps cards, and only set me back a couple dollars, if I'm remembering correctly. Not bad at all for my favorite vintage set.

Oh, and one last note on that trivia question. Warren Spahn came pretty close to being a correct answer, but his contract was sold to the Mets after the 1964 season. He retired in 1965 as a Giant, just a year before the Braves moved to Atlanta.

Good guess, though.


  1. I sure wouldn't mind if Topps brought back coaches' cards... of course, seeing as Managers barely ever make the cut, that seems quite unlikely.

    1. I wouldn't count on it. Half the roster barely makes it in.

  2. We have a Brass Armadillo here in Des Mines, but i've never darkened their dorstep - it just looks to exprndivr. I may have to just go in and see for myself sometime.