We are down to 17 days before pitchers and catchers report. We are getting close!! A friend of mine the other day asked me why pitchers and catchers report early. I was going to joke and say that pitchers aren’t real athletes. But I didn’t want to offend anyone with that. Seriously, I did wonder the same thing. The obvious answer is it gives them more time to give them a little extra time to get used to throwing off the mound again. Or give them time to adjust to throwing in an environment other than just winter drills. In an interview with The Sporting News, famed baseball historian Jim Thorn opined with:
“The pitcher and the catcher both probably need to have some kind of training together, in a way that, say, a second baseman and shortstop don’t. The pitcher and catcher relationship is a constant. One might argue that while baseball is a game of nine against nine, at most points in a game, it’s two against one — pitcher and catcher against batter.”
I’ll buy that. If you’d like to read more, you can click here.
Now, on to the countdown. Unlike previous posts, I won’t go into great detail about their MLB careers, but I will tell you this is an eclectic group of players! Some were all stars, some I liked just because I got their card the first year I started collecting. And sadly, none are hall of famers, although one should be just because of his hair! I’ll sort them by career WAR, or wins above replacement. Please don’t ask me how it’s calculated. Basically it’s a number that presents, the number of wins the player added to the team above what a replacement player (think AAA or AAAA) would add. So there ya go!
Toby Harrah – career WAR of 51.44. To put him in perspective, he’s about where Dustin Pedroia, Even Longoria, and David Wright are today. Something to keep in mind, Harrah has a higher WAR than at least 20 hall of famers. Granted, WAR is just one stat, but it shows that over his 17 year career, this four time all star was no slouch.
So this card is from his 1976 season. This one was a trick pick. He only wore #17 his first year, 1969, then wore #11 the rest of his career. In fact, he was up for just a cup of coffee in 69, playing 8 games with just one at bat.
Andy Messersmith – career WAR of 37.6. Comparable to David Price, Fernando Valenzuela, and hall of famer Catfish Hunter. Messersmith played 12 seasons for 4 teams. He was also a four time all star, and a two time gold glove winner. When Messersmith pitched for the Dodgers in 1976, he had 19 wins and 19 complete games, the latter stat leading the league. Complete games have gone by the wayside. In 2018, eight players tied for the MLB in complete games with TWO. Yep, two. So there ya go.
Cecil Cooper – career WAR of 36.0. Comparable to Jose Reyes, Joey Bats (aka Jose Bautista), and very close to HOFers Bill Mazeroski and Pie Traynor. Cooper played 17 seasons, the first six with the Red Sox, where he wore number 17. He signed on with Milwaukee in 1977, and changed his number to 15. Cooper was a five time all star, a two time gold glover, and a three time silver slugger. After his playing career, he worked in the Brewers organization at both AAA and the major leagues. In 2007 he was named interim manager of the Astros after the firing of Phil Garner. Hmmm…. Phil Garner…. That name sounds familiar…..
Phil Garner – career WAR of 29.7. Comparable to Hunter Pence, Martin Prado, and just above Baby Doll Jacobson, who played from 1915 to 1927. BTW, Jacobson doesn’t have a number, in case you were wondering. Garner played 16 seasons, was a three time all star, and won a world series ring in 1979 as a member of the Pirates. He only wore number 17 for one season, 1977, so unfortunately this card from 1980 doesn’t show him wearing 17. Here’s a fun fact about Garner: he hit two grand slams on consecutive nights for the Pirates, on Sept. 14 and 15, 1978. His nickname was Scrap Iron.
Oscar Gamble – career WAR of 22.9. Comparable to … hmmm… trying to find someone you might recognize. Oh, Matty Alou, Larry Bowa, and Shake and Bake McBride. I joke, but he was good enough to stay in the majors for 17 seasons, and has the last hit and RBI ever in old Connie Mack Stadium in 1970. While Gamble isn’t hall of fame material, his hair was. Check out the do over the years!
Julian Javier – career WAR of 13.8. Statistically comparable to, well, nobody I could find. My list only went down to 18. Think of a Felix Milan back in the day. Javier was a two time all star (1963 and 1968), and won two world series rings in 1964 and 1967 as a member of the Cardinals. There’s nothing very spectacular about him or this card. But this is from the first season I started collecting cards, 1972, and if my fading memory serves, this was one of my first ever. I’ve hung onto it now for almost 47 years. Why? Who knows. Maybe it’s so I can think back to fun times. And remember that if it weren’t for players like Julian Javier, and all the other players who made it to the big leagues, baseball wouldn’t be the great sport that it is today.