Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Antique Mall Mystery Pack: Brewers

We're nearing the end of the Mystery Packs that came from my trip to the antique mall last year. Like the Yankees, this one consists of 1970s cards that were sold in a binder page. I didn't get any ninja Orioles, but the interesting history of the Brewers does have shades of another team.

1971 Topps #516 Ted Kubiak
1969 saw more expansion in Major League Baseball. The Montreal Expos began play that year, as did their National League counterparts, the San Diego Padres. In the American League, the Kansas City Royals started, along with a team called the Seattle Pilots that few people other than hardcore baseball fans have heard of.

The Pilots experienced the usual expansion team woes in their only 1969 season, and a lot more. Their repurposed Minor League stadium wasn't nearly up to par for a big league setting, and the team quickly fell into bankruptcy after poor attendance and high ticket prices. Recently retired Commissioner Bud Selig bought the team and moved them to Milwaukee to become the Brewers.

The City of Seattle didn't like this one bit, and ended up suing the American League. Everyone was happy by 1977 when the Mariners brought Major League Baseball back to Seattle. That was also the first year of the Blue Jays, ensuring there remained an even number of teams.

Anyway, in the midst of all that drama, the now-Brewers didn't really have time to come up with their own branding. The move wasn't made official until just before the 1970 season, and their uniforms hastily had "Brewers" sewn over where "Pilots" used to be. What you see here is essentially a Seattle Pilots jersey and helmet, which is given away by that unique striping on the sleeve, meant to resemble an airline captain's uniform.

Jim Bouton, author of Ball Four, and perhaps the only reason anybody at all remembers the Seattle Pilots ever existed, hated the uniforms. With all the stripes, colors, braid on the caps, and little ship's wheel logos, his feeling was that "We look like goddamn clowns."

1978 Topps #595 Sixto Lezcano
By the late 1970s, the Brewers, though they kept the blue and yellow of the Pilots, at least toned down the uniforms a bit. Lezcano had a more-or-less average 12-year career, though he does hold quite a specific record. He is the only player in Major League history to hit a grand slam on Opening Day more than once. It happened in 1978 and 1980, the seasons that sandwiched his only gold glove award.

He was part of the trade that sent Ozzie Smith from San Diego to St. Louis, and like many of Topps' 1970s American League cards, this photo was taken in Yankee Stadium. That black armband on Lezcano's sleeve was worn as a memorial to the death of teammate Danny Frisella, who died in a dune buggy accident in 1977. It was worn throughout the Brewers' 1977 season.

1979 Topps #24 Paul Molitor
This isn't Paul Molitor's rookie card. That goes to a four-player card in the 1978 set. This is, however, his first solo Topps card, and it also marks a change in the Brewers uniforms. They still kept the blue and yellow colors, but with a fancy new logo. Cleverly, though it just looks like a ball in a baseball glove, it is actually made up of the letters "M" and "B". This was a fan-submitted design, and is one of those things you can't unsee. Like the arrow in the FedEx logo. Or the little arrow going from A to Z in the Amazon logo.

But the Expos logo still looks like a JB to me.

This 1979 card is the newest one from the whole page, and the only Brewers jersey that looks familiar to me. The 1979 set didn't have cartoons, but there are on-this-date trivia questions. Try this Baseball Dates question out: What happened on October 15th, 1960?

Coincidentally, it was something I wrote about just a couple weeks ago in a book review. Taken verbatim from the card, "Bill Mazeroski's 9th-inning Homer gave Pirates the World Series championship over Yankees."

Paul Molitor was present for another World Series-ending home run, as he signed with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1993. Joe Carter won it for the Jays with a Game 6 walkoff. Molitor won his only World Series that day, and was named Series MVP. He'd continue to play through 1998, finishing up as a member of the 3,000-hit club, and being enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

1975 Topps #337 Kevin Kobel
Another 1970s card, another Yankee Stadium photo. I still have trouble telling the 1970s sets apart, but 1975 I can recognize. The telltale two-tone design (say that ten times fast) can be spotted a mile away, even if it's a player I've never heard of.

1977 Topps #406 Tim Johnson
The remainder of these cards are from 1977, which is primarily what I found in these pages. There are quite a few batting cage shots in that set, but at least it's a different backdrop than the left field seats at Yankee Stadium.

1977 Topps has cartoons! Tim Johnson's card has one depicting Cookie Rojas, and a note that Rojas has hit two extra-inning grand slams in his career for the Royals. Between this post and that doubleheader with the Dodgers last month, there's been a lot of talk about grand slams lately. The cartoon is slightly incorrect, as the line score shows the 12th inning on the scoreboard, but Rojas' grand slams were in the 10th and 11th.

1977 Topps #498 Sal Bando
Sal Bando came over from the A's for the 1977 season, and is welcomed onto his Brewers card with a very airbrushed photo. Bando played for Oakland when they dominated baseball in the early 1970s, winning three consecutive World Series from 1972-1974. No one besides the Yankees have put together such a streak.

Topps reached way, way back into the history books for Bando's cartoon. We're informed that Claude Elliott of the Giants earned a whopping six saves in 1905. That's a few weeks' work for a modern closer, but it led both leagues by far in 1905. The next player down only had three, and no one in the AL managed more than two.

If you told someone in 1905 that we'd have such a thing as a Closer in today's game, and that the all-time leaders have over six hundred, they'd probably stare in a state of amazement at how close games must be in the future.

Also they'd probably be surprised about the whole Cubs thing. But the Postseason is fast approaching, and this year could get interesting, especially with the Indians in the mix, who haven't won since 1948.

1977 Topps #159 Bernie Carbo
Bernie Carbo knows World Series droughts about as well as the Cubs and Indians. He was a key player for the Red Sox in Game 6 of the 1975 Series, tying it up with a three-run shot, and setting the stage for Carlton Fisk's 12th inning heroics. Still, the Red Sox couldn't get it done in Game 7, and would have to wait another 29 years and for a lunar eclipse to break the curse.

The Brewers haven't reached the Fall Classic within my lifetime, and this year definitely won't be it. But for an expansion club, they've seen a lot of great players and have one of the most interesting genesis stories in the entire league. These cards from their early days were a great find!

1 comment:

  1. Those are some great cards. The Brewers have such a random grouping of players in their first 7 years of existence -- Hank Aaron to Danny Frisella to Jim Slaton to George Scott to Dave May...it was never the same or boring, that's for sure!