Monday, November 30, 2009

Collective Troll’s Mangled Monday, A Look at the Mess that Topps Made of the 1974 Traded Set.”

Madding, the author behind the amazing Cards on Cards web blog (which should be a must read for any fans of the St. Louis Cardinals) has a regular weekly feature called “Airbrushed Fridays”. That feature of his has really opened my eyes to Topps image altering. I had always suspected it as a kid, but I just couldn’t believe that it was possible for a company like Topps to do such a thing. They were the classiest, coolest, longest running and highest quality Card Company out there; I didn’t want to believe that they would fake pictures. I didn’t want to believe, I couldn’t believe that Topps would have someone doodle (poorly) on ball players caps. When I first stumbled upon Madding’s column, read it, and then perused his “Airbrushed” archives, my neighbors down the street could probably hear me scream “I knew it!”. I just really couldn’t believe that with all of the photographers and resources that Topps had, that they would do something this “bush league”. I mean even 35 years ago Topps had a stable of over 100 photographers, most who also worked for newspapers and magazines and were at EVERY SINGLE GAME with a camera in hand. I just don’t see how getting a photograph of a guy with the appropriate team’s hat could even be an issue. I have never personally had the privilege to shoot cards for Topps, but I have freelanced for 5 other (formerly) major brands-Fleer, Donruss, Pinnacle/Score, TriStar and Upper Deck. In the past, when I got a “call” (actually an e-mail now, it used to be a fax) for a certain player, generally someone geographically near to me, I had the image in their office the next day.Even in the 90’s, before digital cameras and emailing photos, with the assistance of a one-hour photo lab and FedEx, I still had the shot for the card company the next day. As big as Topps was (still is) I would imagine that they have a network of 100’s of photographers eager to shoot whatever they need. As a child who was interested in photography, my parents actually arranged a meeting for me with a Topps photographer-but that will be another story on another day. . I will use some of the insight he provided for this story, though. He did tell me that he attended every single game of the season, he also worked for the Bridgeport (now Connecticut) Post newspaper and he said he provided Topps with about 5,000 images per year. He also said that they did in fact have around 100 photographers in their group. A little simple math will tell you that somewhere in the Topps’ offices there are at least half a million images of baseball players begging to become cards. Back then Topps only had one release each year and it never used more than 800 images. It seems like they had a whole lot of options available and it makes the quality of images hard to swallow. I think that it takes (took) a whole lot more time and energy for someone with zero artistic ability to attempt to scribble a logo on someone’s airbrushed ball cap than to just take another picture, but what do I know? Topps obviously had different logic than I, a simple card collector and blogger, and those ideas of theirs produced 100’s (if not more) god-awful, ugly, hideous and downright foolish cards of great ballplayers with horrible looking logos scrawled on their hats. Of course in doing this, it has given us bloggers plenty of writing fodder, right? Now, I am going to steal an idea and try something new for me, so bear with me. I have nowhere near the writing or layout talent, the expertise, the readers or the humor that my friend Madding does, but I am not going to let that stop me from stealing his idea. Madding, I apologize in advance for idea theft and stepping on your toes, but here is a tribute post to your fantastic idea. It aint Friday today, but I present to you, the “Collective Troll’s Mangled Monday, A Look at the Mess that Topps Made of the 1974 Traded Set.” This is the smallest (in quantity) traded set that I know of, it has just 44 cards in it and each card shares the same number as the regular issue card, just with a T after the number. When I first started here I had the full set, but I helped a few of you out to finish your own sets and I am down to just 40 cards. Right now I am missing the checklist, Bob Locker, Larry Gura and the 1974 Cy Young Award Winner Mike Marshall (since the set is already broken, I will consider trades for all of these cards). I am going to point out some statistics, but I will base them solely on the 40 cards in my possession. The numbers are frightening, you have been warned… Now the ’74 Traded Set was Topps first attempt of the decade at an update set, so I suppose that they deserve a little bit of leeway, but not really. The way I see it, if you don’t have a single decent looking card, why bother putting together a set, right? One method that Topps used to avoid the airbrush was to use photos of players without their ball caps on, men without hats if you will. Baseball players are not models, they aren’t pretty people and some guys look downright scary without a hat on, especially this close up. Now the regular issue set was not without it its own hatless atrocities, case in point card #116 of Pirates hurler (and apparent Albino) Jerry Reuss, but in the base set it was the exception and not the rule. In the traded set, out of these 40 cards, we have 9 hideous, hatless freaks. That is 23 %. Staggering. Their other trick is: “Hey, is that a spaceship up there?” or “Check out that blonde on the roof!”. Yeah, as a photographer you say some weird stuff, but apparently they wanted images of guys wearing hats with their heads tilted back far enough that the logo isn’t visible. It is really a scary thing for a player when the shutterbug tells you to lean back and look up, it is another way of telling you that you probably want to rent this year. There were a few guys who had the “look up” pose in the base set, perhaps guys who were on the block. Red Sox pitcher Dick Drago got that treatment with his card, #113, in the base set, but he wasn’t actually traded until spring training in 1976. Had he been traded in ’74, Topps probably would have used the same photo and only needed a tiny bit of paint. Juan Marichal is the only Hall of Famer represented in the ’74 Traded set (out of 40 that is 3%) and he had a very cool looking card in the base set (#330) which showed his trademark delivery and gigantic leg kick, but on his traded card he gets the “hey, look up over there” treatment. No airbrushing required (apparently), they just covered the Giants logo on his jersey up with the “TRADED” bar and bam, they have a card. It does give collectors a nice look at his impressive muttonchops, but still… I will say that I do like the “back of the card” on these. The date and trade write-up is pretty neat, but for some reason its hilarious to me that Topps brings up the no-hitter that Marichal threw 12 seasons prior-is that pertinent info? Anyway, Topps used this photographic strategy with Marichal and 12 others making it 33% of the set looking up and off in the distance. This saved Topps from having to draw logos, but in some cases they did have to paint the caps and they are also delivering a set with 1/3 of the players “looking up” at God knows what. I wasn’t a card consumer in ’74 and I did go back as an adult and probably spent a whole bunch more money buying this set recently than it cost 35 years ago, that’s my fault for being a blind collector. Seriously though, this pose is ridiculous and it makes up 1/3 of the freaking set! After this mess was anyone surprised back then that Topps didn’t make a traded set the following year? They did return with a 54 card set in ’76 and although they did put a hat on everyone, about half of those hats were airbrushed, so they didn’t really learn their lesson at all. If only Fleer and Donruss had entered the game a few years earlier, they could have kept Topps honest… Anyway, with the “men without hats” and the guys “gazing up in the air” we have more than ½ of the cards covered. So were all of the rest of them cool action photos? No. There isn’t a single game-action or even simulated action shot in the whole set. The other half of the cards are ALL PAINTED MESSES! They had a few ‘brushed cards in the base set, but again, it was the exception and not the rule. The rule is in the traded series that every single player (all 40 cards) who is wearing a hat isn’t actually wearing a hat that looks the image shows. They were all faked, all airbrushed, wool was (attempted) to be pulled over our eyes. As a consumer this angers me, but I feel for the players, too. I mean its bad enough that these guys got traded, but Topps adds insult to injury with this awful pictures. This is BS Topps! I don’t really have anything witty to say about these airbrushed absurdities, so just view and enjoy (or become ill). I would love to find the Topps executive that thought this would be a great idea way back when. I would be even more interested to find the man (or infant) who was responsible for the drawing the logos. There are a whole bunch of questions I would like to ask them. I don’t have a ton of traded sets, but this one, the ’76. ’81, ’86, ’87 and 1991 sets are what I have to go by. 1976 was a slight improvement in that they put hats on everyone, but every set up until 1991 still feature airbrushing, horrible photography and men without hats. Here are a couple of cards from the 1991 Topps Traded Set that show that they did eventually get it right and it is in fact possible. Thanks for reading, I love this hobby! Don’t forget to enter the Collective Troll’s Most Iconic (baseball) Rookie Card of the 1980’s Contest!!! For more awesome airbrushed ridiculousness, be sure to check out Cards on Cards on every Friday! Troll out.

Hello 50 GRAND!!!

Greetings Blog-O-Sphere!!! I just finished class and walked over to the computer lab (the secret spot where BlogSpot isn’t blocked by the school’s firewall) and I called up my little blog to see it standing at 50,001 hits!!! Thanks to any and all of you who have checked my little page out over the past 6 months. I never thought I would reach a milestone like this, I swear I still wonder if anyone reads this ever. Whether anyone reads it or not, people are clicking on it and all the amazing traders out there are trading with me, so it is serving its purpose. Anyway, my lack of a proper computer has made me nervous and I nearly quit, but I received so much support from other bloggers and all of my trading buddies that I decided not to give up, rather to go harder than ever and start by offering a contest to celebrate this personal milestone. I’ve had to work a little bit harder, be a little more focused and get comfortable outside of the house, but its been working so far. I am a little slow and six months later I am not much savvier with BlogSpot than I was when I began, but I am learning little tricks. I figured out how to schedule posts. On Saturday I spent close to 12 hours locked up in my Dad’s home office with a box of cards. I was able to hammer out 7 posts and schedule them to cover almost every day this week. Justin suggested to me (via email) that I check out Black Friday deals on computers. This was a pretty great idea and I did and found a 4 Gig laptop at Best Buy for under 400 bucks. I don’t really have anywhere near 400 bucks, but it gives me a goal and something to reach for. I think we dropped over a thousand on our last computer, so I was imagining having to pay that much again. I got a phone call today from work and I have been put on Wednesday night’s (which had been one of my night’s off) to work permanently. Wednesday is a really busy night and one of the longest nights (and best money) shifts, so I am pretty excited. I couldn’t save any money working 5 days a week, but I was getting by. I plan on stashing away everything that I make on Wednesdays as my computer fund. Anyway, I am babbling, but I am excited about the good work news, the blogging milestone and basically everything that is going on in the Blog-O-Sphere right now. I mentioned before that I won’t be buying any new product now or throughout 2010. Until I get a computer, scanner, new digital tape recorder and a better telephoto lens (which could take all year) I won’t ripping any wax at all. I do love trading with everyone, but I have to set my priorities and draw the line somewhere. One place that I didn’t draw the line was buying up prizes for my 50,000 hit contest. I have (at home) one copy each of the following: 1980 Topps Rickey Henderson, 1985 Topps Mark McGwire, 1982 Topps Cal Ripken, 1984 Topps Don Mattingly, 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. and 1986 Topps Traded Barry Bonds. Whichever card is voted the winner will be the grand prize. If I can get 100 of my friends in the blog-o-sphere to play along and enter the contest, I will give out other cards, too. It’s an easy contest to enter. Follow the blog, choose what you think is the most iconic rookie (baseball) card of the 1980’s and leave a comment on this post or the original one. I will run the voting until I stumble into hit #51,000 and after that I will randomize all of the entrants and chose a winner, or perhaps 4 winners. PLEASE, please, please help a Troll out and enter the contest, vote for your favorite rookie card and make this a great contest! On a different note I have some cool posts in the works. I have more “Card-A-Day” posts that are pretty fun, I have an in-depth look at the 1974 Topps Traded set, plus a player by player profile of everyone on the 2010 Hall of Fame ballot, plus a couple of trade posts. I am having car issues (again) and am riding my BMX bike to school and work for now, so I haven’t checked the post office in a few days. I hope by the time I get there it is overflowing with goodness. Anyway, congratulations to the Collective Troll, seems like someone is actually reading it! PLEASE vote for the contest-at present there are only 19 entrants so the odds are in your favor! Thanks to everyone for their support. The Blog-O-Sphere rocks! Troll out.

Its On!!! Most Iconic Rookie Card of the 1980s, A Contest!

Happy Thanksgiving to all!!! Are you guys ready to win a really awesome rookie card from the 1980s? Okay, then relax and read on...
I had a lot of plans for this blog. It was my best friend for six months. When I woke up, I read everyone’s blogs, when I got home from school-I posted, when I got home from work-I posted. While I was at work I was writing future posts. I love writing this blog, I have a ton of really awesome folks and pulled off some amazing trades and my collection has really flourished in the time that I have been blogging. I had always planned on having a HUGE contest to celebrate achieving the Collective Troll's 50,000th hit. It always seemed like an impossible or improbable number, but here I am knocking on the door. The only problem is I am without cable, a computer, a scanner and internet access. I have decided however that this blog is important enough to me to try and persevere, to blog on. While blogging on I have passed the 49,000 mark and in theory should be hitting 50 grand in the next week or two. Assuming that I hit that mark I do want to go ahead and have a contest. The prizes won’t be as grand and abundant as I had hoped, but I can still make them pretty sweet. As is typical with my contests (does anyone remember one of my contests?) there will be some voting attached. The vote will be to select the most iconic rookie card of the 1980’s. I am going to start the voting now and it will continue up till 50K and on up to 51,000.
That should leave the contest up for about a month and should allow plenty of people to have the chance to vote. The normal rule that you must follow the blog to enter will apply. You must vote for a card to be eligible, but that is it. No other hoops to jump through. After hit number 51,000 I will close the contest, all of the entrants will be randomized (only 1 entry per blogger) and a winner will be selected. The winner will receive the card that is voted as most iconic rookie card of the 80’s. I picked the 80’s for a couple of reasons-1. It is a hell of a lot cheaper to furnish the prize-I don’t wanna buy a Mike Schmidt (70s) or Steve Carlton (60s) rookie to give it away. 2. I started really collecting in the 80’s and I think most bloggers did as well. 3. The hobby really took off in the 80’s-there were negative side effects like overproduction and crappy product, but the hobby grew to a crazy, almost mainstream level in the 80s. Okay, now who wants to vote for the most iconic rookie card of the 80’s? You need to choose the year, the brand and the player, that’s it. Some year by year suggestions include: 1980 Topps Rickey Henderson. 1981 Fleer Harold Baines, 1982 Topps Cal Ripken, 1983 Fleer Tony Gwynn, 1983 Topps Wade Boggs, 1984 Donruss Joe Carter, 1984 Topps Don Mattingly, 1985 Topps Mark McGwire, 1984 Topps Traded Dwight Gooden, 1985 Donruss Roger Clemens, 1986 Topps Traded Barry Bonds, 1987 Fleer Update Fred McGriff and of course the 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. You don’t have to choose from these suggestions, pick whatever you feel is the most iconic rookie. Whichever card wins will be the prize. That is guaranteed. If over 100 people vote I will add a second and maybe even a third prize, but either way someone is going to win a really sweet rookie card. You don’t get an extra entry for advertising this contest, but if it helps get more entrants than it would be appreciated. What are ya waiting for? VOTE GOSH DARNIT!!!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Card of the Day-2007 Triple Threads Jason Bartlett

It was only a matter of time before the card of the day would be Jason Bartlett… This came in the mail last week from a reader who calls himself Griffon and it is my first Topps Triple Threads card ever. I had seen this card on eBay before, I had it on my watch list many times, but not having PayPal, I never bid on it. Either way I am thrilled to own this awesome little piece of cardboard. I have drooled over images of more recent Triple Threads cards which spell out accomplishments and names over the jersey swatches, but the 3 stars on this work just fine for me. This is now the 5th Jason Bartlett autograph that I have in the collection and they are all sticker autos. It is the 2nd jersey swatch card (both dark Twins jerseys) and I am still waiting on the elusive bat card. The dark coloring of the jersey swatches give the card a dreary look to it, very dark, especially in contrast to the bright certified refractorish sticker above it. When I was inactive from blogging for a week, I packed up my display case of Rays cards out of frustration-now the only cards I have on my desk are my 5 Bartlett autographed cards, laid out in a row. I am pretty proud of them. The back of this card reminded something I had long forgotten. When Bartlett was selected in the 13th round of the 2001 draft out of the University of Oklahoma, he wasn’t picked by the Twins-he was chosen by the Padres. I had totally forgotten about that! I guess two teams that don’t have a decent starting shortstop are kicking themselves for trading away a gold glove level fielder who batted .320 and stole 30 bases this past year. I had also forgotten who Bartlett was traded for… It was none other than Brian Buchanan, the Yankees number 1 draft pick in 1994. Buchanon, along with Christian Guzman, Erik Milton and Danny Mota were all sent to the Twins in exchange for Chuck Knoblauch. Of course Guzman became an All Star, but Buchanon, an outfielder became trade bait to beef up the infield in the farm system and he was traded man for man for Bartlett. Buchanon did play for a season and a half with San Diego at the big league level and hit 14 homers for them while Bartlett was still in the minors, but now Bartlett is an All Star and Buchanon is in the minors. He played his last big league game in ’04 with the Mets, but he spent last year playing for the Omaha Royals of the PCL. Funny how things work out. In 2004, when Christian Guzman left the Twins for free agent money with Washington, Bartlett took over as the Twins starting shortstop. He only played one full season there, in 2007, when he hit .265/5/43 with 23 steals. Of course after that year he and Matt Garza came to the Rays and they were in the World Series in Bartlett’s first year with them-coincidence? I don’t think so. Bartlett was an All Star for the first time this year and finished 7th in the AL with a .320 batting average. He just turned 30 last month and he seems to be coming into his own as a Ray. He’ll have to break in a new double play partner this coming season, but I look for him to only get better in 2010. Thanks again for my 5th Bartlett auto Griffon, much appreciated. Oh, and thanks once more to Tim for my 4th! Okay, now who wants to win a free Ken Griffey Jr. Rookie card? Or Cal Ripken Jr, Mark McGwire or Rickey Henderson? Click here to find out how... Go Rays! Troll out.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

1965 Topps, A Cardboard Tribute to the Playoffs and the MVP(s)

I recently showed a George Crowe card from 1959 and mentioned that was my favorite set from the 50’s. My favorite set from the 1960’s is perhaps my favorite set of All-Time, the 1965 Topps set. Some call it the “Pennant Set” for the little flag in the corner and that is what initially attracted me to it as a kid. I loved the waving pennant with the team logo and the colored frame around the picture and the player’s name. My parents were dating in 1965, but I was nowhere near to even being a thought at that time, but once I discovered baseball history, ’65 became the most fascinating year to me. After winning the pennant every year to this point in the decade, the Yankees dropped to 6th place in the American League and a team that was a perennial second division club won the pennant in the AL. 1965 was the first year of free agency and the first year for a domed ballpark. The 8th Wonder of the World opened in Houston in 1965. The Braves spent their final season in Milwaukee and Sandy Koufax enjoyed one of the best seasons any pitcher would ever have in baseball history. He won the All Star game, won two games in the World Series, including game 7, he pitched his 4th career no-hitter, which was a perfect game and he led the league in nearly every possible category and was a unanimous selection for the Cy Young Award, again. He was the 1st pitcher to win the award twice and till that point was the only unanimous winner and he won that way both times. He also set a new record for strikeouts in a season with 382. The record would stand for 8 years until Nolan Ryan upped the mark by 1 in 1973. Yeah, it was an amazing season… I don’t own Koufax’s card, otherwise it would be my hands down choice for best card of 1965. I don’t own any of the amazing rookies in the set either-1965 was the rookie card year for Steve Carlton, Catfish Hunter, Tony Perez and Joe Morgan. I don’t own many cards, but I do own a card of the American League MVP of the 1965 season, a 25 year old shortstop named Zoilo Versalles. To this day I have never said his name out loud, he sounded like a super hero as a kid. I referred to him as Zorro and as it turns out, that was his nickname. Zorro was born in Veldado, Havana, Cuba in December of 1939 and moved to the US to play baseball as a teen. He got his first taste of the Major Leagues with the Washington Senators in 1959 as a 19 year old rookie. He played sparingly early on, but by the time the team moved to Minnesota and became the Twins, Versalles was their starting shortstop and would hold that title from 1961-1967. Over that time he was twice an All Star and also won two Gold Gloves. For the sake of this post I am going to focus on his magical 1965 season where the infielder led the American League in at-bats (666), runs (126), doubles (45), triples (12) and total bases with 308. He also had a .273 batting average, 19 homers and 77 RBI from the leadoff spot. He won a Gold Glove that season, he was an All Star (a reserve, Dick McAuliffe started) and he led the Twins to the World Series. It was an incredible turn around for Minnesota who had finished 79-83 (6th place) under Sam Mele the previous year. In 1965 the Twins would win 102 games, even with a huge drop-off in production from Harmon Killebrew. They got help from scrappy players like Versalles, Bobby Allison and Tony Oliva. Whereas in ’64 Killebrew led the power charge with 49 homers himself, and 5 other players topping 20 homers, the ’65 Twins didn’t win with the long ball. Killebrew still led the team in long balls, but this year he only hit 25. Versalles was the glue of the infield and the sparkplug in the lineup. As the leadoff hitter, he stole 29 bases, but also hit 19 homers. He got on base and scored more often than not, he crossed the plate 126 times that year-19 more times than his teammate Oliva who was second in the AL. Versalles led the Twins to the World Series in an almost worst to first Cinderella scenario. The series lasted 7 games, but in the end the Dodgers pitching staff-led by Sandy “Superman” Koufax was too much for the Twins. Versalles hit .286 with 14 total bases in the series, his only career taste of postseason. He had one homer in the Series, which came in game 1 when Mudcat Grant beat Don Drysdale 8-2 to give the Twins the early advantage. Jim Kaat beat Koufax in game 2, but the Dodgers rallied and won the next 3 games behind amazing pitching performances from Claude Osteen, Drysdale and Koufax who each went the distance for the win. Mudcat Grant came back in game 6 and beat Osteen 5-1 in game 6 to even the series at 3 games each, but in game 7 it was all Sandy Koufax. In game 7 Jim Kaat started for the Twins against Koufax and till the 4th inning both pitches were rolling along and the score was knotted up with both teams shut out. Kaat allowed a homer to Slick Lou Johnson, the Dodgers cleanup hitter and was yanked from the game after 3 innings of work at a 2-0 deficit. Four Twins pitchers combined to shut the Dodgers out over the next 6 innings, but the damage was done. Sandy Koufax pitched a complete game shutout, striking out 10 and allowing 3 hits for his second win of the Series. The Dodgers won in 7 and Koufax allowed just 2 runs in 24 innings of work. Koufax was named the World Series MVP; he won the pitching Triple Crown, the Cy Young Award, was the Major League Player of the Year, won his 3rd World Series ring and finished second in the NL MVP voting to Willie Mays. In the NL it was Koufax’s year, but in the AL it was Versalles. He took home the American League MVP award, edging out his teammate and batting champion Tony Oliva (.321/16/98) and Brooks Robinson (.287/18/80). Tony Conigliaro who led the AL with 32 homers received just 1 point in the voting and finished 33rd in the voting. Versalles selection as MVP is one of the most disputed of the awards history. Many feel that Carl Yastrzemski, who batted .312/20/72 deserved it, some felt that Cleveland’s Rocky Colavito (.287/26/108) deserved it, but most contend that Oliva was the top player on the Twins and deserved the award. Oliva paced the AL in hits with 185 and led the league in batting for the second straight season with a .321 mark. He was a starter in the All Star game the previous year and also won the Rookie of the Year Award and laced a career best 217 hits the year prior. He also had a disappointing postseason (which shouldn’t effect the MVP vote) batting just .192 against Koufax and the Dodgers. Neither Oliva nor Versalles would ever come close to winning the MVP award again. Oliva’s career lasted 15 seasons and he was an All Star in 8 consecutive seasons. Versalles would never be an All Star again. He played 4 full seasons after his MVP campaign in ’65, but never batted above .249. He also never hit double digits in homers or triples again. He had 10 steals in ’66, but was caught stealing 12 times that year. He stopped being a base stealing threat and 6 was his best in his final 4 seasons. After the 1967 season he and Mudcat Grant were ironically traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Johnny Roseboro and Ron Perranoski. At this point the Dodgers were horrible, they finished 7th in the NL and although Versalles was the starting shortstop on the team, he batted just .196. The following year the Padres selected him in the expansion draft, but his career had past him. The Twins would return to the postseason again in ’69 and ’70, but would have to wait until 1987 for the franchise’s first World’s Championship. I had really intended on keeping this post focused on Zoilo Versalles-specifically his ’65 Topps card (which is the only card in this post that I actually own), but I just couldn’t. The Koufax card is on my wish list, but I couldn’t resist stealing images of him and Killebrew and about 20 others…. As far as Zorro’s ’65 card, does anyone know what he is doing? It’s a posed spring training shot; he’s crouched, squinting, perhaps in pain. He doesn’t look the guy who would be the most valuable player that year, but he was! As much as I love this set, the photography is at times horrific. I have to be glad (with this Zoilo card) that at least he has a ball cap on. Baseball cards of guys with empty heads aren’t cool. I don’t know, maybe this is a standard pose. A standard pose for a guy who comes from out of nowhere and leads a 2nd division team to the World Series and takes home the MVP award in the process. This is one of the cards that I rescued from Mom and Dad’s house. I think I bought it at a flea market many moons ago. It was in a top-loader that said MVP on it. I know that when I bought the card I have absolutely no idea who Zoilo Versalles was, but getting a card of an MVP from the 1960’s was too much for a young Troll to pass up. When I brought this card home the first thing I thought was: “wow, I wonder how long ago this dude won the MVP, he looks like an old man”. I keep on looking at the card right now and I feel the same way. I just called the wife in here to guess how old this guy was and she said “42”. He doesn’t look like a young man about to have a breakout year. He looks like a very old and weathered fellow. Truth is he is only 24 years old in this photo. He still looks like a coach to me. If not for the giant infielders glove that is forced into the camera I would be sure that he was a coach. I can’t believe the guy was 24 when this photo was taken, but there are a lot of things I can’t believe. I can’t believe that with all the talented players they had, that he was the first Twin to take home the honor. He is actually only one of only 5 Twins to ever win it. He was the first, then Harmon Killebrew took it home in 1969, Rod Carew won it in 1977, Justin Morneau was the MVP in 2006 and this year Joe Mauer became the 5th MVP Twin. I also really can’t believe that he was the first Cuban player to ever win the Award. Since they began awarding the Most Valuable Player in (the Chalmers Award) in 1911, it took 54 years before a Cuban player won it, Versalles being the first. He was the only Cuban to take home the honor for over 70 years until Jose Canseco became the second to do it in 1988. They are the only Cubans to ever win it. You can take it further and notice that he was only the 4th American League shortstop to win. Roger Peckinpaugh was the 1st back in 1925. Player slash manager Lou Boudreau won the Worlds Championship and the MVP with the Indians in ’48, then Phil Rizzuto took home the honor in 1950. 15 years later it was Versalles turn and it took nearly 20 years before another AL shortstop did it. Robin Yount and Cal Ripken won it back to back in ’82 and ’83, Cal did it again in ’91 and Miguel Tejada won it in 2002. In nearly a century only 7 different AL shortstops have won it and Versalles was one of them. In fact, he and Miguel Tejada (active) are the only shortstops (AL) to be MVP and not be in the HOF. Another crazy thing about Versalles, the Twins and 1965 is this. The Twins were the Washington Senators from 1901 until 1960. As the Senators they made the trip to the Fall Classic 3 times. They won it all once in 1925 and made their last appearance in 1933 when they were defeated by the New York Giants. It took 33 seasons before they made it back to the Classic, this time as the Minnesota Twins and of course, they fell to the Dodgers in a 7-game series. In 1969 and ’70 they made the playoffs again, but lost to the Orioles in the ALCS. They didn’t return to the World Series again until the magical season of 1987 when they won it all. They were back in 1991 and won it all again. Since then they have regular playoff contenders, but have not made it back to the Series since. They have been around for 109 seasons and have made it to the Series 6 times, winning it 3 times. 1965 was magical because it was 30+ years since they were there and it would be 20+ years till they made it back. Getting back to Versalles-he was a rookie in ’61 and in ’62 he began to make a small name for himself. He batted .241 with 17 homers and was actually named by someone on the MVP ballot. He finished 21st with 8 points. Of course Mickey Mantle won the award with 234 votes after a season where he batted .321 with 30 homers. Versalles pop as a slick fielding shortstop make him intriguing to the writers. Ernie Banks was a power hitting shortstop in the NL, but in the AL the standard was set for shortstops by guys like Luis Aparacio who never hit more than 10 homers in a single season. Versalles was an Aparacio type fielder and when he swatted 17 longballs, the writers took notice. Detroit’s Dick McAuliffe, who started the ’65 All Star game for the AL took power further than Versalles did (he hit 24 homers in ’64) but he didn’t have the glove or the speed that Versalles possessed. Anyway, that 8 points he earned on the MVP share in 1962 were the only MVP points Versalles earned prior to his selection in 1965-he was never named on an MVP ballot after that either. This gives him the dubious distinction of having the lowest career MVP share of any player who was actually voted MVP. He came out of nowhere in 1962 with the Twins and for the six seasons he was one of the best shortstops in the American League. Starting at 23 years old and continuing till 27 his average season was 156 games with 150 hits, 27 doubles, 9 triples, 13 homers and 11 steals. He also scored an average of 83 runs and had a .248 batting average, while playing gold glove defense. His card says he is 5’10” but I can recall while interviewing Mudcat Grant many years ago, Cat said Versalles was 5’8” in cowboy boots. He also said that Versalles was the biggest complainer in the clubhouse. He was in pain constantly. Despite that, he averaged 156 games a year over 6 seasons. He only missed 2 games during his MVP season and he topped 160 games a year 4 times. It was his back problems that abbreviated his career though. In July of ’66 he was treated for a hematoma in his back and that problem persisted. It was the reason that he was traded to the Dodgers in 1968 and probably the reason that they left him unprotected in the expansion draft. After leaving the Twins in ’68 Versalles bounced around with 4 different teams. He would retire after playing the 1971 season with the Atlanta Braves. He played in just 66 games for the 3rd place Braves, mostly backing up Marty Perez, but also relieved Felix Milan at second as well as a young slugger named Darrell Evens at third base. The Braves released him after the season where he batted just .191, he was 31 years old and it was the 4th time in his career that he batted below the Mendoza line. The bigger problem was that his defense wasn’t good anymore either. He took the ’72 season off and tried to come back in ’73 with the AA Jacksonville Suns of the Southern League. The comeback attempt lasted only 17 games and at 33 years old the former MVP was done with baseball. He still remains the only Twins shortstop to win the MVP Award and is also the only Cuban infielder to earn the honor. I do greatly appreciate anyone who has humored me to the point of reading this “out of control, LONG-ASS” post. I seriously started out intending merely to discuss one of the few cards I own from this awesome set. This post took on a life all it’s own. Like I said pages ago in the opening paragraph, the ’65 set is my favorite from this decade and maybe my favorite of all time. Unfortunately, many of the best cards in the set are also the ugliest. The black and white Steve Carlton rookie isn’t pretty and neither are any of the cards of hatless pitchers. I don’t think that this card of Zoilo Versalles will ever win any award as the prettiest card ever either. Fortunately Zoilo himself won the awards and he took home the biggest, the 1965 American League MVP award. 45 seasons later, Joe Mauer of the Twins took home the same award to Minnesota. Like Versalles was the first and only Twins shortstop to win it, Mauer is the first Twins catcher. I personally think that Mauer will win one or two more before he is done and hopefully he will do it for the hometown Twins and it will remind baseball of the first Twin to do-a fleet footed, slick fielding shortstop with a little bit of pop who crossed the plate almost once a game back in 1965 with a funny name that no one can pronounce, Zoilo Versalles. I do intend on highlighting some of the other awesome ’65 cards that I have stashed in my drawer, but look forward to MUCH SHORTER posts about them. In the mean time, if you want to check out a real blog with real 1965 Topps cards, check this one out. Its written by Kevin, who also brings the blog-o-sphere the Orioles Card of the Day blog. Thanks to the internet for all of the images that I borrowed for this post. There will be more posts about cards I actually own coming soon. PLEASE enter my contest for the most iconic baseball rookie card of the 1980s. The prize is the card that you, the blog-o-sphere choose as the most iconic. Like I had said before, if more than 100 of you vote I will give away three different cards-that is a lot of 80’s iconic rookies, so VOTE PLEASE!!! I wish that I could have had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing the ’65 MVP, but sadly Mr. Versalles is no longer with us. He died at his home in Minnesota in 1995. 11 years after his passing he became the 16th player voted into the Minnesota Twins Hall of Fame. On deck is the ’65 Robin Roberts. I LOVE THIS HOBBY!!!! Thanks for reading. Troll out.