Thursday, December 3, 2009

Bird Hill Aces!

The card of the day (later edition) today is from the 1969 Topps set, card #532, Bird Hill Aces. It features Tom Phoebus, Jim Hardin, Dave McNally and Mike Cuellar. Conspicuously absent is Jim Palmer. Of course Palmer spent the 1968 season in the minors re-discovering his stuff. By the time the ’69 season rolled around and this card came out Palmer had joined the quartet and moved into the 4th spot in the rotation. The card was accurate in that McNally and Cuellar were aces, Phoebus wasn’t too shabby either (14-7 in ’69), but Jim Harden fell off the mark in ’69 going 6-7 in 20 starts after an amazing 18 win campaign in 1968. Harden would hang on with the Orioles as a spot starter in 1970, but would be traded to the Yankees in ’71 and retire soon after. The other 3 plus Palmer would form the greatest pitching dynasty of the late 60’s and early 70’s. Mike Cuellar would win the Cy Young Award in ’69 and averaged 20 wins a year from 1969-1974 helping the Orioles to 5 playoff appearances and a World Series victory in 1970. Dave McNally topped 20 wins in 4 straight seasons beginning in 1968, but never won the Cy Young-he did league the AL in wins in 1970. Tom Phoebus was 14-7 in 1969, but was traded to the Padres in 1972, but he did collect a win in relief in the ’70 WS. Jim Palmer, who was left off of the card, would pitch for the Orioles until his retirement in 1984. He topped 20 wins eight times from 1970-1978 and also won Cy Young Awards in 1973, 1975 and 1976. He had already won a World Series with Baltimore in ’66, but he would win again in 1970 and 1983. He would win 268 games for the Orioles and went into the Hall of Fame in 1990. The card was correct in that those 4 young pitchers would lead Baltimore to greatness-they took the American League Flag in ’69, but lost to the Amazing Mets in the World Series. All 4 of them, plus Palmer took home the Pennant in 1970 before the group was broke up. Phoebus and Hardin were relegated to spot starts and some bullpen duty because the Big 3 of McNally, Cuellar and Palmer took care of nearly everything themselves. Each one of those starters pitched more than 290 innings in 1970 and Cuellar and McNally each won 24 games. Palmer chipped in 20 wins himself. Those three accounted for 54 complete games, 10 shutouts and 68 of the Orioles 108 wins that year. They beat the Reds in the World Series for their only Pennant as a group. The pitching led them there, but Brooks Robinson took home the WS MVP after batting .429 with 2 homers and 6 RBI. With 3 pitchers on the team having outstanding seasons they split Cy Young votes and didn’t win. Minnesota’s Jim Perry (24-12 3.04) took home the award. McNally (24-9 3.22) placed 2nd, Cuellar (24-8 3.48) was 4th and Palmer (20-10 2.71) was behind him in 5th place. That is my take on the card, here is what the writer’s at Topps Baseball said on the back:
“Four starting pitchers give the Orioles one of the most respected pitching staffs in the league. Tom Phoebus, a 14 game winner in his rookie year, rang up 15 wins in his sophomore campaign in ’68. Don’t forget this righthander also pitched shutouts in his first two appearances in the AL. Jim Hardin was another improved sophomore for Baltimore last year. As a rookie 1967, Jim won 8 games but last season he notched 18 victories. The ace of the staff is southpaw Dave McNally who was the #2 man in the AL in 1968 with 22 victories. Mike Cuellar joined the Orioles last winter via the deal that sent Curt Blefary to the Astros. With Houston last year, the righthander was their top starter with a fine 2.74 ERA.”
That sums it up pretty well. As big a fan of Curt Blefary as I am, the trade of him that brought Mike Cuellar to the Orioles may have had more influence on their Dynasty than any other move. I really love these group cards, I really love Topps card of the 60’s, I really love going back and seeing how true the card companies predictions were. I really like the pose here, too. The 4 four aces sitting on a park bench showing off their dangerous (except for McNally) right arms. In the case of this card, these 4 (plus Palmer) got the job done in ’69 and ’70, as advertised. Well done Topps! Today will probably be the final day of voting for my 1980 Rookie Cards Contest-Ken Griffey Jr and Ricky Henderson remain in a deadlock, how about a few more votes before I shut it down? Oh, a couple of endnotes... As I have mentioned before, all of the cards that I post for card of the day are available for trade. I have the notion that I would like to chase the '65 Topps set and I am about 5 per cent of the way there, so any of my cards from the 60's are available for '65 Topps. Also, this card is from the 1969 set which my friend over at Closet Full of Cardboard is trying to build. Get in touch with him if you have any '69s you want to get rid of. Also, I use Baseball Reference for all of my stats and lately I have tried to link the players with their stats page so you have a reference. Okay, that is it. I love this hobby! Troll out.


  1. Great card. I love the vintage Topps multi- player cards too. The titles were often great, like "Bird Belters", "Manager's Dream" or "Tribe Thumpers".

  2. I love the vintage cards too. I need more of them in my life.

  3. Wow, this is a popular card! :)

    I wonder why Topps singled out the Orioles and Athletics in 1969 for group cards, but skipped the other teams.

    In 1967, about 2/3 of the teams had group cards, then in 1968 there were only 2 group cards, both featuring all-stars from different teams.

  4. Nice write-up about the Orioles starting pitchers.

    And as if these guys weren't enough, they would get Pat Dobson in 1971. He and the other big 3 would each win 20 games that year!

  5. Nice! Some Orioles love!

    That Bird card rules the roost. They should make another one now with the new baby birds: Tillman, Matusz, Arrieta and Erbe.

    It's too bad several of the Orioles great prospects from the 60's hurt their arms. Oh what could have been, Mr. Wally Bunker (Age 19, 19-5, 2.69 era - one of the best seasons ever by a teen. 1964.)

    Cuellar will ALWAYS be a star to me. He had 9 really good seasons and didn't even get a chance until age 29. His career reminds me a lot of Ron Guidry. They would both have been Hall of Famers had they been in the majors at younger ages.