Monday, March 23, 2015

You're All Winners to Me

Don't worry, this blog hasn't devolved into an annoying after-school special where every person is a unique little snowflake and there isn't anything negative thing in the world that can't be fixed with happiness and teamwork.

It's done plenty of devolving, but I haven't dropped to that point yet.

No, this post is about a set of cards that was published a few times over in the late 70's/early 80's that has proven to be extremely helpful towards my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection:  the late Larry Fritsch's "One-Year Winners."

They are fairly difficult to come across in brick and mortar stores, as is the case with most of such releases.  Therefore, I was ecstatic when I found a whole stack of them in my LCS not so long ago:

First put out in 1977, a set exemplified by the two cards you see above, a new set came out every 2 or 3 years through 1983.  Fritsch, who along with TCMA, was one of the undisputed kings of oddball cards in the pre-junk wax era.

His goal with this set was to shine the spotlight on players who only played in the bigs for a single season and were thus likely never to experience the joy of seeing their mug on a baseball card.

Without his noble cause, it would have been damn near impossible to cross Brinkopf and Thorpe off of my list.  For instance, Leon only got into 9 games way back in 1952 and the shortstop batted just .182 in 26 ABs.  Bowman wasn't rushing to get him in their set - no one was - as far as I can tell, this is the only baseball card that was ever produced with his likeness.  The Cubs were okay without him though; the next year, some fellow named Banks came up and did pretty well at short for the next few years.

Not to be confused with the player of the same name who made a three-year cameo in the majors a few years earlier, Thorpe's only big league action came in 1955 and lasted for a whopping 3 innings across 2 games.

It got ugly from there.  Bob was driven from the game by a sore arm and elbow surgery by the end of 1959.  Less than a year after his retirement from baseball, Thorpe was working as an apprentice electrician on power lines in his native city of San Diego, when he was accidentally electrocuted at the age of 24.

Just finding a picture of Bob in a MLB uniform had to be challenge, let alone a baseball card.

The next edition of Fritsch's "One-Year Winners" came out in 1979 and Mr. Eaddy here was the only example of which I was able to add to my collection.

In researching Don for this post, I know find that he almost could have been spotlighted along with Tim Stoddard, Kenny Lofton & co. in my post on Saturday about players who both starred on the hardwood in March Madness and played for the Cubs.

The versatile athlete was a three-sport star for the Michigan Wolverines - halfback in football, guard in basketball and third baseman in baseball.

His hoop skills were legitimate, having been selected as an All-Big Ten Conference player. Unfortunately, the Wolverines did not make the NCAA tournament during his college days.

Having ultimately decided to pursue his baseball career, he signed with the Cubs in 1955.  His reasoning for signing with Chicago?  "I thought I would have a better chance to reach the major leagues sooner with them, because they are not loaded with material."  Harsh, true, but harsh.

Unfortunately for him, he was soon drafted into the Air Force in 1956 and had to put his MLB dreams on hold until 1959.

When he finally ascended to the Majors that year, Eaddy was able to make it into 15 games.  The catch being that they were all as a pinch-runner except for a single at-bat, in which, he struck out.

Thus ended what could have a promising career.

Now, we fast-forward to 1983 to examine the third and final set.  As you can see, the design drew it's inspiration from the very set that this year's Heritage is aping:  1966 Topps.

Elder was in fact White's given name but it also proved fitting in that he was 28 years old by the time he reached the top rung in 1962.  It was easy to get lost in the shuffle with the Cubs and their ludicrous College of Coaches experiment that was going on at the time.  However, the middle infielder did not help his cause by batting .151 in 64 PA's.

His career in the minors was much more successful and 12x longer as well.

Lary actually managed to sneak onto an MLB roster in two separate year, but those two years were VERY separate.

The pitcher got into a single game during the 1955 season and turned in a quality start - going 6 innings with 2 ER.  Despite that, Al wouldn't get the call again until 1962, when he saw action in 15 games, mostly out of the bullpen.  The fact that he posted a 7.15 ERA in the span assured that he wouldn't get a third year in the bigs.

All told, having signed with the Cubs in 1951 and retiring from baseball in 1964, Lary spent 14 years in the organization and only played in 16 MLB games - talk about gutting it out!

Don Prince was really more of a frog - and that was really more-so for his exploits after baseball.

After all, he really didn't have time to do anything significant in the majors.  His career lasted but a single inning in 1962.  He walked a Met and hit the second man up before eventually settling down and retiring the side.

But many years later, in 1996, Prince was arrested by two undercover policemen in South Carolina.  The crime?  Murder for hire!  Turns out that sometime after he quit baseball, he decided that being a hitman was his true calling.  He got 17 years in the big-house, which means he was only just released a couple of years ago.  Watch your backs, folks!

Gregory is a far less interesting case.  the hurler made the big time in 1964 and managed to stick around for 11 games out of the bullpen.  He posted an ERA of 3.50 in 18 innings without factoring in a decision.  Not too bad, right?

The Cubs must have liked his bat too.  He was used as a pinch-hitter 13 times, but he only managed one hit.  He even played some outfield in the minors that year, likely as a means of extending his career and usefulness to the franchise.  Sadly, it wasn't enough and this Brooks Kieschnick prototype was out of baseball by 1965.

Perhaps Prince was the one who killed his career?

The last card that I added to my collection was that of George Gerberman.

In September of 1962, George was a promising young prospect in his second year, just drafted out of the Braves organization.  He was lucky enough to get that ever-elusive call to the show and was thrust into the spotlight.

He didn't do too badly either.  In his lone appearance, a start against the lowly Mets, George went 5.1 innings and only allowed three hits with one ER.  He was a little wild though, allowing five walks before being relieved by Freddie Burdette.

Even so, that was to be his only chance to shine on a Major League diamond.  Gerberman kept on trying though; pitching in the minors through the 1968 season with varying levels of success.

As you can plainly see, this set has already proven fruitful for my CATRC and that's just the tip of the iceberg.  There are several other players who have popped up in the various editions of this set that would cross off targets on my want-list who would otherwise be impossible.

So, thank you Larry Fritsch for your contributions to the baseball card world.  It is sets like your "One-Year Winners" and the like that break up the monotony of the Topps-dominated world.

Diverse subjects make for more interesting sets, in my opinion.  I'd rather find a card of Don Eaddy or Elder White than a millionth one of Ryne Sandberg any day.

That said, I still love my Sandbergs - I'm kind of a hypocrite too.

I know I said that this post wouldn't devolve into an after-school show where I gab on about how everyone is unique and special, but Fritsch and his cards were definitely so.

Good luck getting that out of your head; I've been trying for 20 years!


1 comment:

  1. This is a fantastic set. I believe Eddie Gaedel and Pete Gray have cards in the checklist, and I've been trying to find them for years without much luck.