Sunday, March 26, 2023

Forsch Brothers

Imagine this:
You and your younger brother grow up in the 1950s and 60s playing baseball as often as you can. Dad played semipro, which only helps fuel the fire. By the time 1968 rolls around, your talents get both of you noticed by scouts and selected in the MLB Amateur Draft. You go in the 18th round to the Houston Astros for your pitching prowess, and younger brother Bob—all of 18 years old—goes in the 26th round to the Cardinals as potential position player and pitcher.
For mom and dad, who nurtured your baseball instincts to the point where they built a baseball field behind the house in rural California, it must have been an incredible day.

You make the majors just a couple of years later, in 1970. As for brother Bob, he's still spending time in the minors. Scouts during the draft had pegged him to be a decent hitter and fielder, and although he was handling the field alright, he wasn't hitting very well. In 1971 a farm director for the Cardinals thought to switch him to pitcher exclusively, and Bob soon after began to prove that hunch right.

In Houston, though, you're having a tough time finding a role on the pitching staff. You were a starter for your first two seasons, then a reliever for the next few. You did a fine job in relief and didn't complain. In fact, you relieve so well in 1976 that you're chosen to represent the Astros in the All-Star game. But you really want to be a starter.

Meanwhile, back in St. Louis, your younger brother Bob is finding his rhythm as a pitcher—and not only that, but as a starter. In 1975 he goes 15–10 with a 2.86 ERA, 7 complete games, and 4 shutouts over 230 innings pitched. In 1977 he has an even better record, going 207. Then on April 16, 1978, he hits a big milestone: He pitches a no-hitter.
It's around this time that Houston decides to place you back in the starter role. Good thing they did.
On April 7, 1979, about a year after brother Bob's no-hitter, your very first start of the season is in jeopardy due to some sort of insect bite that has swollen up your non-pitching elbow pretty badly. But you go out and pitch anyway, pushing through it. You retire the first three batters without much issue, and then in the bottom of that first inning, your guys put up a couple of runs. Turns out that's all the run support you'd need.

Through the 8th inning you pitch a fantastic game, generating a bunch of groundouts, flyouts, and a few strikeouts. And when you get Rowland Office, Jerry Royster, and Glenn Hubbard all to ground out in the top of the 9th, you've done it. You've got a no-hitter!
Not only is it the earliest no-hitter of the year that's ever been pitched in Major League Baseball, it also makes you and Bob the first brothers to both pitch a no-hitter. (It's a feat that the brothers hold alone to this day.)
Afterward, you receive a telegram. It reads: “Congratulations on your no-hitter. I know how it feels. Enjoy every minute of it. Your Little Brother.”
Can't beat that.
Here's Bob and Ken the very next year on their 1980 Topps cards, enjoying a sunny day at the ballpark.
1980 Topps #535 Bob Forsch and #642 Ken Forsch


And here are the career totals for both brothers:



(16 seasons)


(16 seasons)





























Bob was a 1982 World Series champion with the St. Louis Cardinals. As for that potential he had as a hitter? Well, he's a 2x Silver Slugger award winner at the pitcher position. Impressively, he's got a career .213 batting average (.213/.235/.321), and put up a total of 190 hits, 45 doubles, 8 triples, 13 home runs, and 84 RBI. In 1975 he batted .308 (24-for-78, wow!) with 3 doubles, 3 triples, and a home run. Over his career he played for St. Louis and Houston. His best year could have been 1977, when he posted a 20-7 record, 8 complete games, a 3.48 ERA, 217.1 innings pitched, 95 strikeouts, 69 walks, and 2 shutouts.

Ken was a 2x All Star (1976 and 1981). He suited up for the Houston Astros and the California Angels. Because he split his career between starter and reliever, it's hard to choose his best year. As a reliever, it was 1976, when he was selected for the All-Star game, put up a 4–3 record, a 2.15 ERA, and totaled 19 saves. As a starter, it might have been 1981, his first season after being traded to California. He was again an All-Star, and went 11-7 with a 2.88 ERA, 10 complete games, and 4 shoutouts (led league).
So here's to the Forsch brothers. Two pretty solid pitching careers, and a brotherly record that still stands, almost 45 years later!

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Baseball in French, Lesson 4: La Balle Glissante

Welcome to Baseball in French, Lesson 4. Previous lessons can be found here.
Today's term is la balle glissante.
In English, that translates to "slippery ball". What's the baseball translation?

Here's a guy who had a pretty mean slider, sporting the Expos colors on his 1989 O-Pee-Chee rookie card. 


Johnson didn't have much command of his pitches back in those very early days, but by the close of his career he'd collected more than 300 wins and nearly 5,000 strikeouts. Let's just say he figured it out.
As for the baseball terminology, I think slippery ball is pretty accurate and descriptive. The pitch does tend to slip away from the strike zone. It's kind of a silly term too, which isn't a bad thing. But if I were a French-language baseball commentator, I think I'd get tired of saying "slippery ball" after a while. Besides, the term can evoke more of a spitball than a slider, don't you think?

What are your thoughts? Leave a comment below, and thanks for reading!

Sunday, March 12, 2023

Completed Set: 1988 Score Baseball

1988 was one of those memorable years in the baseball card world. The hobby was booming. Rookie cards were all the rage. Topps, Fleer, and Donruss were churning out cards by the million. There was probably at least one retail source nearby that you referred to as a "local card shop". Baseball card shows were being held at hotels, VFW halls, firehouses, and shopping centers on a weekly basis. And on top of all that (or maybe as a result), a new trading card company jumped into the game.

A year before Bowman's resurrection and Upper Deck's inaugural release, and three whole years before other premium brands like Stadium Club and Ultra appeared, it was Score who stepped up to the plate. 
Here's how you would have found their cards on store shelves back in 1988:
That purple Don Mattingly card on the box top is the first card in the set. But it only tells part of the color story. Score used six different colors for their card borders in this set, which, if displayed in 9-pocket pages, makes for a very colorful binder.
The colors weren't randomly assorted, however. Neither were they designated by team. Instead, Score decided to make things nice and numerical.
Each color was assigned to 110 cards, consecutively. And because there were six different colors used, that makes a complete set of 660 cards. Here's the rundown:
1–110 = purple
111220 = blue
221330 = red
331440 = green
441550 = yellow
551660 = orange

Interestingly, that same color progression appeared in packs. You'd get roughly three cards of each color, also consecutively. So for example, the pack might have started off with three purple cards in a row, then three blues, three reds, three greens, three yellows, and two oranges for a total of 17 cards. This might seem like a good idea for distribution, but it actually led to some pretty crummy collation issues. If you tried to put a set together the old-fashioned way—buying a box, opening all the packs, and then sorting the cards by number—it was a killer. You'd get lots of duplicates across those packs, and even some repeated trios. (How do I know this? Personal experience. I'll leave it at that.)

The player images on the cards also show evidence of repetition, as you'll see next. I wonder if Score's executives had a conversation with their photographers that went something like this:
Executives: You know what, guys? It would be really cool if you could take some photos that show hitters at the moment they're making contact with the ball.

Photographers: Done.
Executives: And maybe you could do the same thing for pitchers, just as they're releasing the ball.

Photographers: Done.
Executives: Ooh! And pitchers throwing the ball right into your living room.

Photographers: Done.

Executives: And we've got to have some photos that show hitters taking a really big cut at the ball.

Photographers: Done.
Flip through the entire 660-card set and you'll see many more examples like the ones above. Too many. 
There were also some unfortunate runs that showed practically the same image, card after card. For example, #516 through #523 are all pitchers, all captured at some point in their throwing motion. So there were some growing pains with photography in this inaugural set. Along with the photo repetition, there were also some niggling typos and name misspellings throughout the set. It's to be expected, I suppose.
However, Score did pay attention to some of the finer details, and they definitely deserve credit for that. For instance, relief pitchers received an "RP" designation on the front of the card, instead of just a "P" for pitcher. That's pretty cool. Check out these three RP studs.

Outfielder designations also varied. Some players received the standard “OF”, but other outfielders who were more established at a specific position were noted. Have a look at these three guys, for example.


So it's not all negative, by any means. In fact, I think Score had a very good debut. The card design is clean. The images are crisp. That very thin white border that's inside the photo frame is a classy design touch. Most of the time the players were framed very well inside those borders, and there are plenty of good action shots that don't follow the templates shown above. Take these, for example.



And Score did capture some star players of the day doing things they were known for. 


Then we get to the back of each card. It's where Score really shines.

Not only do you have a full-color headshot (a step above Fleer's card backs of the '80s), but look at all that descriptive text! Right from the start, the copywriters at Score were masters at cramming in a lot of player information. It's often interesting information as well.
Here's the text from Bo Jackson's card, in larger print:
Bo, who has awesome power, a fantastic arm, and blazing speed, sizzled at the start of 1987, his first full season in pro baseball, and gave fans a hint of his immense talent.
That would be plenty of content for most card backs of the day. But for Score? Not even close. It continues.
In a three-game series against the Yankees, he got on base 10 of 14 plate appearances. In a game against the Tigers, he hit a three-run homer and a grand slam (his bat broke but the ball still went 410 feet). In a game against the Twins, he hit the longest home run of the season in the Metrodome, a 466 footer. Bo topped off the year by playing with the Raiders as a “hobby” in the off-season. “Bo has more natural ability than anyone I’ve ever seen,” said hitting coach Hal McRae.
The awesomeness of Bo was made quite clear. But wait, there’s an ENTIRE SECOND PARAGRAPH.
Bo played only 79 college games at Auburn, where he was the 1985 Heisman Trophy winner as a tailback and the NFL’s no. 1 draft pick. In a surprise move, he signed with the Royals in ’86 to play baseball rather than football. After a slow start in the Double-A Southern League, Bo batted .388 in his last 40 games. Brought up to the Royals in September with only 53 pro games behind him, he awed everyone with his prodigious power and blinding speed (3.7 seconds from home to first, the fastest time in baseball). “Bo has so much ability, it’s downright scary,” said teammate Frank White. “You don’t see that combination of speed and power in many human beings.”
And it wasn't only phenoms like Bo Jackson who received detailed write-ups like that. Just about everyone did.
Score also dipped their toes into the "rookie craze" waters, devoting space toward the end of the set for 25 consecutive rookie prospects on a modified card design. Here are the three biggest prospects of the group.

If you were a kid who had a penchant for organization, you would have loved having all your rookie prospects lined up one after another in your binder.

As for subsets, Score had just a few of those.

Reggie Jackson had just finished his stellar career, and Score produced a few tribute cards. There were five in all, each card documenting one of his MLB stops: A's, Orioles, Yankees, Angels, and A's again.  

Then there were a few combination cards that featured stars of the day.  

And finally, a few cards at the very end of the set documented highlights from the 1987 season.


Score did take note of how popular subsets were, however, and added even more in years to come. (Remember the Dream Team, bighead cartoon all-stars, K-Man, and No-Hit Club subsets to name a few?)

In every pack you'd also get one of 56 different "great moments in baseball" mini lenticular cards. Fans of Sportflics will have been familiar with the look of these.

The great moments range from the previous year all the way back to 1920.
Interestingly, however, there are no checklist cards or team leader cards in this set. 
Just as interestingly, card #439 of Jeff Robinson seems to be the only posed shot in the entire set. That's it. No headshots. No batting poses. No fielding poses. Just one pitcher's pose. I guess Score was early on the whole "ACTION SHOTS ONLY!" idea.

So that's 1988 Score. Overall, it was a pretty solid introduction. Crisp photos, eye-catching colors, great write-ups on the backs. And it's still affordable 35 years later. I have some really good memories of collecting cards from this set with my stepbrother when we were kids, and of the excitement that came along with a new card company. I'm happy to have finally completed it.

What are your thoughts on Score's first attempt at baseball cards? Share in the comment section, and thanks for reading!

Sunday, March 5, 2023

Blog Bat-Around: The Alphabet Challenge

For this week's post, I'm going to take a swing at a blog bat-around started by Nachos Grande a couple of weeks ago called "The Alphabet Challenge".

Simply put, you take all the letters that make up your blog's name, and choose a favorite baseball player whose first or last name begins with that same letter.  Here's Nacho Grande's version. And here's an entry from John's Big League Baseball Blog. There's also one from The Collective Mind. And from The Angels In Order.

Because I'm a fan of both baseball and hockeyand because those are the two sports that dominate my trading card collectionI'm going to modify the rules slightly, using a mix of favorite athletes from both of those sports.
Here we go:

Nemchinov, Sergei 
Back in my college hockey days, Mr. Nemchinov was a player I tried to model my game after: responsible defensively, ability to read plays and players, can contribute a little on offense, too.
Fun fact: He and Alexei Kovalev were the first two Russian players to have their names engraved on the Stanley Cup (1994 New York Rangers). Nemchinov also has the distinction of playing for the Islanders, Rangers, and Devils across his career. He was on every side of all those rivalries!

I was a big fan of Ichiro during his career. He was such a highly intelligent, supremely talented hitter and fielder. Not to mention the speed. Or playing well into his 40s. Also, check out the Baseball Thrill on the card to the left. So many consecutive 200-hit seasons.


Neely, Cam
The handshake line on the card to the left tells me that Mr. Neely and the Bruins have just finished dispatching the Hartford Whalers from the playoffs. Being a power forward, there's no doubt that he put up some points and laid some hits during the series, too. In fact, after looking up the results from the 1989-90 playoffs, the Bruins defeated the Whalers 4 games to 3 in the first round, and Neely totaled 4 goals, 6 assists, and 10 points to lead all Bruins in scoring during the series. He added 27 penalty minutes, which also led the team. Now it looks like he's already focused on the next round. And if that face looks familiar, the following video clip might explain why.

Elias, Patrik 
Patty was a classy player, and classy guy. Wihtout making too much noise, he totaled more than 1,000 games played, scored more than 1,000 points, and was a big part of two Stanley Cupwinning teams in New Jersey. I always appreciated how smoothly he skated and how solid his edgework was. (He probably could have been a world-class downhill skier if he hadn't played hockey). Growing up in the New York/New Jersey area meant I had lots of opportunities to watch him play on the MSG Network, and I thoroughly enjoyed that.


Prado, Martin
Recently I saw an SUV on the road called a Prado, made by Toyota. I guess that's why I had Martin Prado's name in mind. He was an excellent player for quite a few years with the Braves and the Marlins, batting over .300 for a few seasons. Overall, his 1,500 hits, 100 home runs, a slash line of .287/.335/.412, and an All-Star game selection is nothing to shake a stick at. The guy had a pretty good glove at third base, too.


Ordonez, Rey 
Back in the early 2000s, I remember reading an article from a baseball writer who lamented Ordonez's lack of hitting ability. He said he'd rather have a borderline MLB player at shortstop, just for the sake of consistency and playing the averages. I thought that was ridiculous. Maybe it works strictly on paper and for moneyball purposes, but if I'm going to pay for a ticket to a Major League baseball game, give me Ordonez 10 times out of 10. It's worth the price of admission just for the chance to see the guy make an unbelievable play at shortstop, even if he doesn't do much at the plate. (His lifetime batting average was .246, which isn't all that bad anyhow.)

Chelios, Chris 
Mr. Chelios played in the NHL until he was 48 years old. (FORTY EIGHT!) Now that I'm in my mid-40s, I appreciate what guys like he and Ichiro accomplished even more. Chelios is one of the greatest, most decorated US-born hockey players of all time, and it's amazing to think he almost decided to give up on the sport as a teenager. The first-ballot Hall-of-Famer made the All-Rookie team in 1984-85, is a 3x Stanley Cup winner, a 3x Norris Trophy winner, represented the United States in numerous Olympic tournaments, World Cups, and Canada Cups, and was named as one of the NHL's top 100 players a few years ago.

Kovalev, Alexei
I mentioned Kovalev as a compatriot of Sergei Nemchinov at the start of this post, so why not give him a letter of his own? Mr. Kovalev was a slick skater, great stickhandler, and had an incredible wrist shot. When I was a teenager, he was one of those guys who'd pull off a move during a game that we'd all try to imitate the next day when we played roller hockey down at the local park. He had some good success just about wherever he wentRangers, Penguins, Canadiensand many folks say he could have put up even more than his career total of 430 goals and 599 assists if not for the occasional lack of effort or interest.

Eckersley, Dennis
Just look at that photo. Vintage Eck. He's about to whip a backdoor slider past you for strike three to close out the game. Pretty good hair and mustache combo, too. As for accolades, the guy was phenomenal, just missing out on 200 wins (197) and 400 saves (390). I mean, sheesh. He could pitch. And I like his determination. He gave up that all-time classic, gut-wrenching home run to Kirk Gibson in the 1988 World Series, and came back the very next year to help Oakland win one of their own, saving 3 games against the Blue Jays in the ALCS and one more in the clinching game of the Championship against the Giants.

Trottier, Bryan 
When putting together hockey's all-time starting six (3 forwards 2 defensemen, 1 goalie), most folks would choose Gretzky or Lemieux as their center. Hard to argue with either of those choices, of course. But if those two titans weren't availableor even if they wereI might choose Trottier. The guy wasn't big or flashy, but he could do it all. Score goals, set up goals, lay big hits, defend against the other team's top players. He was the league leader in assists, points, and plus/minus in 1978-79. That means he outscoredand outplayedguys like Lafleur, Clarke, Dionne, and Esposito. Let's not forget to mention the huge part he played in leading the Islanders to four straight Stanley Cups. (And then helping the Penguins win their back-to-back titles in the early '90s.)


Smith, Ozzie 
Thirteen consecutive Gold Gloves at shortstop. Perennial All-Star. The backflip to start every home game. Member of The Baseball Bunch. And he proved that you could be a franchise player and fan favorite while hitting almost zero home runs. It's no wonder he was one of my favorite players when I was a kid in the '80s. I'm happy my blog name contained a letter S.

And that's my at-bat. Hope you enjoyed it. Who's up next?