I really struggled with today’s post. The whole idea of my countdown was to create a “Bob Costas Advent Calendar” using baseball cards from my current collection as much as possible. I know there are some legends of the early years that I don’t have. Not too many people have a Babe Ruth or a Lou Gehrig sitting around their house ready to be scanned in. So I knew going in I’d have to post stock images of those. But what about those instances where I had the card of a really great player but for one reason or another chose not to use him (or them)? If I had started this count down a few days earlier, on Day 25 would I post Mark McGwire or Barry Bonds (I do have their cards, by the way)? I think I would have opted for George Brett. By the way, yes, I know that Brett wore number 5, but he started his career wearing number 25.
Today, though, is the first post of the countdown where I have to use a stock photo instead of the card of a player that I do have. In fact, of the 3 players I am choosing to highlight, ALL are stock photos. They are Roberto Clemente, Warren Spahn, and Dazzy Vance.
Roberto Clemente wore number 21 for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Clemente is remembered as much for his humanitarianism as he is for his all-around game. Clemente won four batting titles, 12 Gold Glove awards, was a 12 time All Star, was voted NL MVP in 1966, and finished his career with exactly 3,000 hits. He died at the age of 38, in 1972, when a cargo plane carrying supplies and food to Nicaragua crashed with him aboard. In 1973, the Baseball Writers Association of America voted to waive the standard waiting period for election to the Hall of Fame for Clemente, and elected him with 92% of the vote.
To honor Clemente, MLB now awards annually the Roberto Clemente award given to a player who demonstrates the values Clemente displayed in his commitment to community and understanding the value of helping others.
Spahn pitched 21 seasons in the National League, starting first with the Boston Braves in 1942. He enlisted in the Army at the end of the 1943 season, and was awarded a Purple Heart as well as a Bronze Star. He won 20 games or more 13 times in his career, and won the Cy Young award in 1957. He finished his career with 363 wins, 2,583 strikeouts and a career ERA of 3.09. Spahn won more games than any left handed pitcher to play the game, and is ranked sixth in wins behind Cy Young, Walter Johnson, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Christy Mathewson and James “Pud” Galvin. (Note: as an aside, Young and Galvin are also ranked first and second on the all time losses list, with 316 and 308 losses, respectively.) He was elected to the HOF in 1973.
Vance’s career spanned parts of three decades, starting in 1915 with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He broke into the majors for good in the early 1920’s with Brooklyn, at the age of 31. In 1924, he lead the league in wins, strikouts and ERA, and was voted the league’s MVP. Vance lead the National League in strikeouts for 7 consecutive seasons (1922-1928). He retired after the 1935 season, finishing with 197 wins and 2,045 strikouts. Appearing on the Hall of Fame ballot for the 12th time, he was finally elected to the HOF in 1955.
As mentioned above, there is one player in particular that wore number 21 that, given the controversies surrounding his career in the last couple of years, I chose not to include in today’s blog – Roger Clemens. It’s sad, as I actually had the experience of seeing him pitch in person once while he was with the Houston Astros. He was truly a phenomenal pitcher, but until the controversy surrounding Clemens is cleared up, I am leaving him off my Countdown To Spring Training.