Have a look at Brooklyn-born pitcher John Candelaria on his rookie card:
I think I see a little bit of that New York swagger.
He's looking down toward the camera lens (all 6-foot-7 of him), pounding his fist into that mitt, head tilted, hair whipping in the breeze.
It's a look that's sometimes mistaken for cockiness, or a bad attitude. And let's be fair—with some New Yorkers that's exactly what it is. But I don't think that's the case here. What you're seeing instead is a combination of confidence and youthfulness.
Try and hit this pitch.
Let's say you're stepping into the batter's box right now. Regardless of what you say to young Candelaria there—trash talk, psych-outs, put-downs, whatever you could do to take him off his game—you just get the feeling that he's going to throw the next pitch right past you anyway.
And the very next year, 1977, he sure did prove it.
The youngster would go 20-5 with 133 strikeouts, 6 complete games, and a league-leading 2.34 ERA. Such a dominant performance earned him a spot on the National League All-Star team. And just two years later he'd move beyond All-Star status, playing an important role in bringing the Championship to Pittsburgh.
"The Candy Man" would start Game 1 of the 1979 NLCS against the Cincinnati Reds, pitching seven strong innings to help his Pirates to a win. His team would also take the next two games to sweep the Reds right out of the playoffs.
Then in Game 6 of the World Series, with the Pirates down to the Baltimore Orioles 3 games to 2, Candelaria took the mound. He threw six great innings of shutout ball, earning a big win to keep the Pirates in the Series. The next day his team would take Game 7 and the Championship.
Despite that early-career success, though, Candelaria would never get back to that high ground of a Championship. And after about 10 seasons in Pittsburgh, the second half of his career resembled that of a journeyman. Angels, Mets, Yankees, Expos, Twins, Blue Jays, Dodgers, and then back to the Pirates for one final season.
But all told, in 19 years of Major League ball Candelaria went 177-122 with a 3.33 ERA, 54 complete games, and 1,673 strikeouts. Not too shabby.
And he probably still has some of that late-'70s New York swagger. I mean, just look at his mitt again. Zoom in on the pinky finger.
It has "CANDY" written across it in big, bold letters.
For providing us with a glimpse of what it's like to be a care-free, talented 21-year-old pitcher in the big leagues, 1976 Topps #317 has a spot in my box of favorite cards.