1999 Topps Ozzie Guillen - Braves Card of the Day ⚾

I love Ozzie Guillen so much. I wish MLB had more guys who would say what’s on their mind without any filter. Can you imagine how much more entertaining the league would me? MLB was better with Ozzie managing.

Not the Braves though. Please? Never the Braves.

I wrote quite a bit about Ozzie many years ago at Talking Chop for a book review and I forgot just how much I enjoy his personality. In a world of cookie cutter athletes from the “gosh, I’m just glad to be here” school, it’s a relief to have individuals with real personalities who tells you his truth. I miss Ozzie.

Ozzie Guillen loves to talk. The only two words not to pass his lips are no comment. He is volatile, funny, bright, passionate, ridiculous, absurd, loud, obnoxious, profane, honest and occasionally self-destructive.

He tells what he believes to be the truth in the moment and his most outrageous words always end up in print. He finds himself in hot water more than any reasonable man could tolerate. This is why many of us love him and it is also why many hate him. One thing though, at least he takes his lumps like a man. He doesn’t shoot off to a reporter and then try to blame the reporter for the backlash. Ozzie knows who he is and he knows when he says certain things he’s going to get into trouble. It’s not that he doesn’t care, he just can’t stop himself.

1999 Topps Guillen 301a1999 Topps Guillen 301b

1961 Topps Wes Covington 296 - Braves Card of the Day ⚾

In my mind’s eye, I occasionally try to conjure up a picture of Wes Covington’s batting stance. I try to figure out how a player can hold the bat horizontal to the ground, yet as high as his chin. I try to figure out how a player who holds his bat like that can hit for power. I can only assume he must have been hunched over, leaning over the plate. How would it work otherwise? It must have been something to see. Virtually every paragraph written about Wes Covington that I could find on the internet mentions his batting stance. Kids loved to imitate it.

He was also known for wasting time at the plate. There was no part of his uniform that didn’t need adjusting. There was dirt that needed to be knocked off his spikes with the barrel of his bat. His shoes needed to be tied and retied. He had to get his cap just right and there was always dirt that had to be wiped off his hands. He was known to drive opposing pitchers to distraction. I’m shocked that Bob Gibson or Don Drysdale never clocked him for it.

More than anything, I wanted to see video of his batting stance. I wanted to see exactly how he put that unorthodox swing together. I wanted to see his routine before stepping into the batter’s box. I didn’t get that chance though. There’s so much great MLB footage available from yesteryear, but MLB clamps down hard on anyone who tries to use it. If you ever see old-time footage you enjoy on You Tube, my advice would be to save it as soon as possible before MLB arranges to have it taken down.

It wouldn’t bother me so much if MLB did a better job of making the footage available. Sure, I can search the video at the MLB web site and find footage of Aaron’s 715. I can see snippets of Koufax’s perfect game. I can see any number of Mickey Mantle’s home runs. These are all great of course. There’s no doubt that footage of the superstars is the most in demand. Still, for a sport that celebrates its history as much as baseball, it’s a shame that I can’t find any footage of player like Covington. I can’t even find footage of his two great catches in the 1957 World Series.

It’s also been difficult to find any photographs of Covington’s unique batting stance. It would appear that most photographers who posed him with a bat had him hold his bat like virtually every other player did. Topps in particular has really let me down on this one. Covington has any number of excellent baseball cards from his period with the Braves, and yet none of them show the stance that so many remember.

Some of the cards are just great though. I love the 1960 Topps card. As great as the small black and white photo on the card is, the color portrait sets it apart. That’s as cocky a smile as you’ll ever see. The photo on his 1957 Topps card is likewise great, even if the photograph appears posed rather than an actual shot of his follow through. I especially like the 1959 All Star card. Not every player who spent his career as largely a platoon player got an All Star card, but Covington was there in the 1959 set featured alongside greats such as Willie Mays and Stan Musial. It’s hard to top that.

A few years ago, when I was writing for Talking Chop, a reader wrote to me to tout Wes Covington’s 1961 Topps card as not only his personal best, but one of the great cards of any Braves player. Certainly, Covington’s last card in a Braves uniform, as this card was, is his personal best. The red in the Braves uniform looks great. Covington is giving the camera a knowing look as he selects a bat. I’ve always found the 1961 Topps design to be a bit boring, so the success of each individual card relies on the quality of the photograph. This one is a keeper for sure.

Wes Covington is one of those guys who was known as all bat, no field. For Braves fans though, it was his glove in the 1957 World Series for which he’ll be most fondly remembered. In the bottom of the second inning of game 2, the Braves had Lew Burdette on the mound. He had already given up a run when Jerry Coleman singled in Enos Slaughter. With Tony Kubek on second and Coleman on first, Yankees pitcher Bobby Shantz scorched a line drive into left field. Covington had been playing shallow and the ball looked to get past him. Against all odds, it hung in the air long enough for him to catch the ball back-handed over his head. The catch saved two runs in a game the Braves would go on to win 4–2. A loss that day would have set the Braves back two games to none against the Yankees. It wouldn’t be the last time he’s be Burdette’s good luck charm in the series.

Through the first four games, the Braves and Yankees were tied up at two games each. In game 5, the Braves would send Burdette back on the hill to square off against Yankee great Whitey Ford. A pitcher’s duel was expected and the game did not disappoint. In the top of the fourth, he would make one of the great catches off the bat of Gil McDougald. The pitch from Burdette was lined deep to left and Covington had to run after the fly for all he was worth. With his glove hand outstretched, he would catch up with the ball in the same instance that he smacked into the wall. Even Covington didn’t know he had caught the ball until he got up. It was a spectacular moment and was captured in a wonderful series of photographs.

When all is said and done, Covington had an interesting career. He roomed with the future home run king. He endured the racism that dominated the Sally League in the 1950s and rose above it. He captured a World Series ring. He played with Hall of Famers. He had fun. He was popular in the clubhouse and with the fans everywhere he played throughout his career. (Well, with everyone except Gene Mauch.) Covington passed away a few years ago after a battle with cancer. While he had stepped away from the Major Leagues, he never left baseball behind as he represented the Edmonton Trappers as a goodwill ambassador. There’s even a street named after him in Orlando, Florida. He may not be the first name you think of when mentioning the Braves greats, but he was one.

1961 Topps Covington 296a1961 Topps Covington 296b

1952 Topps Bob Chipman 388 - Braves Card of the Day ⚾

The most expensive card I’ve ever paid money for is my 1952 Topps Eddie Mathews. Sure, it was an absurd amount of money and the card was only graded a PSA 1, but it was the rookie card of one of the Braves all-time greats from the last series of the 1952 card set. I’m not ashamed to have purchased that card.

The money I spent on THIS card, well, I’d prefer to pretend that didn’t happen. And it’s not like I spent a ton of money. I’ve spent more on dozens of cards. Still, this is Bob freaking Chipman.

1952 Topps Chipman 388a1952 Topps Chipman 388b

1958 Topps Ernie Johnson 78 - Braves Card of the Day ⚾

When I was a younger man, I preferred Skip Caray and Pete Van Wieren. Like myself, Skip was a smart-aleck. I’ll even admit that on those occasions when he would lapse into outright meanness, as he did with me one time when I called into his post-game show in 1995, he cracked me up. (My own fault, I called in to complain about the umpiring. Skip, shall we say, dismissed me as an idiot and said the umpiring was fine. Funny, since Skip spent a large portion of the broadcast complaining about the umpiring himself!) While Skip appealed to my sarcastic side, Pete appealed to the geek in me. I would spend hour upon hour staring at the backs of the cards I collected, often memorizing the numbers. Listening to the professor on the TBS broadcasts, it wasn’t hard to picture him doing the same. He always had the numbers at hand and his nickname, “The Professor”, was well earned.

Then, there was Ernie Johnson. I look back now and realize that not only did I not relate to Ernie as I did the other two, but that I lacked a proper appreciation for what he brought to the table. It wasn’t that I disliked Ernie, after all, how could you? His spirit was kind and good natured. He came off like a nice old man you might find yourself chatting baseball with at the counter of a diner while having breakfast. Ernie was always affable and his enthusiasm for the Braves was infectious, even during those awful years of the late 1980s. I was a cynical kid, and at the time, I simply didn’t understand Ernie’s appeal. Now, I look back on him as one of the great voices of my youth.

1958 Topps Johnson 78a

Remarkably, for a guy who meant so much to the Braves over the years, he had few “signature moment” calls, if any. As Braves fans, we can all remember the sound of Skip’s voice proclaiming that the Braves win after Sid Bream slid, or Skip and Joe Simpson trading calls of “Yes” after Marquis Grissom squeezed the last out of the 1995 World Series into his mitt. Make no mistake, I can hear his voice in my head as a plain as day saying “we’re zipping right along here” during a long game, but I simply cannot place his voice with any specific moment with the Braves.

As many Braves fans know, he missed out on calling one of the greatest moments in Braves and MLB history. The night Hank Aaron hit home run number 715, the home run that sent him past Babe Ruth on the all time home run list, Ernie Johnson was in the radio booth for the Braves. We’ve all heard Vin Scully’s poetic call from Dodger’s radio. We’ve heard Curt Gowdy’s call for ABC television. We haven’t heard the call by Ernie Johnson though. You see, even though it was his inning to call, Milo Hamilton, as overrated an announcer as any who ever walked the planet, insisted that he be permitted to call each of Aaron’s at-bats. So yes, we’ve heard Milo Hamilton’s call of number 715. To Ernie’s credit, we’ve never heard him complain about missing the opportunity to call his former teammate’s most famous home run. (Skip Caray, of course, had other opinions. Needless to say, he disliked Hamilton even before his father’s feud with him during the WGN broadcasts of the early 1980s.)

All in all, that’s OK though. You see, when I think of those Braves teams of the 1980s, and I picture that team on the field, if I hear a voice calling the action on the field, that voice is Ernie Johnson. I’m no longer that kid that preferred Skip’s sarcasm or Pete’s numbers. I miss the good-hearted humor he would share on the air with Pete and Skip. I miss his calling a strike as being “right down Peachtree”. I miss his enthusiasm for baseball that you could hear in every second of every game he called. He was, for myself and many others throughout the country, as Skip Caray once famously referred to him, the voice of the Atlanta Braves.

1958 Topps Johnson 78b

It is hard for me to picture a lot of veterans, especially those that you see quite often in their later years, as they were in their playing days. We all know, of course, what Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Stan Musial looked like as young men. Images of them abound both from their playing days and from their appearances in recent times. Not so with many of the lesser players. That’s just another great thing about collecting baseball cards.

Take a good look at his 1958 Topps card. He’s still a young man, but he’s nearing the end of his solid, if undistinguished career. He’s already married to Lois, the love of his life and his announcer son, Ernie Jr., has already been born. He’s played alongside legends such as Hank Aaron, Warren Spahn, Eddie Mathews and Lew Burdette. He has pitched in the World Series. Do you think he had any idea that one day he would become one of the most recognizable faces in the history of the franchise, not to mention a national star?

1968 Topps Felipe Alou 55 - Braves Card of the Day ⚾

I’ve been a fan of the entire Alou family for a long time. Felipe is my favorite because he spent most of his best years playing for the Braves, he was a flat out terrific baseball player and he was a terrific manager.

I love Jesus Alou because he basically spent three seasons out of the game and was able to come back and play in the big leagues. (I tend to picture him as he appears on his 1980 Topps baseball card with the Astros.

I know next to nothing about Matty Alou other than he had a solid career with a few flat out great years for the Pirates.

The best Alou brothers story takes place on September 15, 1963. Felipe Alou started in right field for the Giants. In the bottom of the 7th, Felipe moved to left and Jesus came into the game in right field. In the bottom of the 8th, Felipe moved to center field and Matty came in to play left field. For the first time in baseball history, three brothers played in the same outfield.

1968 Topps Alou 55a

1968 Topps Alou 55b

1993 Topps Jamie Arnold 559 - Braves Card of the Day ⚾

Yeah, this was not a good draft pick. Prep pitchers tend to be crap shoots anyway, but this one did not pan out. He seemed to get worse in the Braves system with each passing year. His cups of coffee in the big leagues with the Dodgers and the Cubs are inexplicable. I guess being a first round draft pick buys you a lot of chances.

1993 Topps Arnold 559a

1993 Topps Arnold 559b

1985 Topps Pascual Perez 106 - Braves Card of the Day ⚾

Pascual Perez was clearly the type of character that would have gotten under the skin of an old-timer like Dick Williams. When the Pirates first gave him a chance to pitch in the big leagues, he would occasionally blow the smoke away from his imaginary finger gun after blowing a hitter away. Perez dropped that act in short order, after all, it couldn’t have been popular with guys like Chuck Tanner or Willie Stargell. It’s also the kind of thing that people don’t forget. I don’t know that Dick Williams ever witnessed this act, but there’s nothing about Perez that would have appealed to him. Do you remember Pascual Perez sprinting into the dugout at the end of an inning? Williams would have hated that. Can you remember Pascual Perez spiking the ball into the dirt around first after he made the final out of an inning like Pete Rose used to do? Yeah, Williams wouldn’t have liked that either.

1985 Topps Perez 106a

I can only assume that Dick Williams didn’t like Pascual Perez, otherwise, the events of August 12, 1984 don’t make a lot of sense. That’s not to say that Dick Williams dislike of Perez was the only reason for the events of the day. Even though the Padres had a comfortable lead of nearly 10 games over the second place Braves, Williams was worried that his team was soft. I doubt that he looked around his clubhouse and found himself reminded of his world champion 1972 Oakland A’s. Old school guys like Dick Williams believed a fight could bring a team together, and it sure looked like he wanted one that Sunday afternoon in the late Summer of 1984.

The Padres sent Alan Wiggins to the plate to start the game, and the first pitch he saw from Pascual Perez landed in the small of his back. Perez wasn’t exactly known for his subtle body language, and it sure looked like hitting Wiggins was not his intention. The Padres have claimed that Perez told Wiggins he was planning on hitting him to start the game. No matter, as he walked to first, escorted by the umpire and a Padres trainer, Wiggins let Perez know what he thought about him. The Padres, a bee buzzing in their bonnet, emptied the dugout onto the grass. Order would be restored, but Dick Williams put a plan in motion. They would not retaliate immediately, but would instead get Perez, during this game, no matter how many tries it took. He went as far to specify a list of replacement managers and pitchers should any of them be ejected.

The Padres had their first chance in the bottom of the second. Ed Whitson sent a fastball that came in high and tight on Perez, who was trying to bunt the ball. The ball caught the knob of his bat, but Padres catcher Terry Kennedy was ready to get in Perez’s face. Even in the midst of a serious situation, Perez was funny and entertaining. He raised his bat like a weapon and all but danced away from the Padres towards the Braves dugout and his backup. (Well, actually, he sprinted. It was still hilarious.) Both dugouts emptied and met at home plate where they did a lot of yelling and a lot of staring. Tensions were not high with both teams. It’s notable that at this point, nobody was ejected from the game. Perez hit Wiggins and the Padres took their shot at Perez, but missed because Ed Whitson simply wasn’t a very good pitcher. The umpires followed the code. As far as the Padres were concerned though, it wasn’t over until Perez was bruised from a fastball.

Pascual Perez would again face an angry Whitson in the bottom of the fourth. Perez came up to the plate in his dancing shoes, and Whitson again failed to hit the Braves’ colorful starter. The umpires gave the Padres their chance in the second, but now they were done. Whitson and Williams were ejected and the game carried on. In the sixth inning, Perez came to the plate to face Padres reliever Greg Booker who, keeping with tradition, attempted to hit Perez and failed. This time, the Braves weren’t mollified by the ejection of Booker and Padres coach Ozzie Virgil Sr and the game’s first brawl took place. It’s unfortunate that MLB left the footage of the first brawl out of their highlights of the infamous game.

1985 Topps Perez 106b

If Padres pitching had been even remotely competent that day, it’s doubtful that anyone would have remembered this game as anything special. Everyone watching the game on WTBS had to know that the Padres would not give up after failing to hit Perez in three straight at-bats. Craig Lefferts was on the mound when Perez again came to the plate in the eighth. The target this time was Perez’s elbow. Lefferts did not miss. The dugouts and bullpens emptied again and the resulting brawl was full of highlights. There was Tony Gwynn all but body slamming Brad Komminsk to the ground before he could reach Lefferts. There was Tim Flannery and Gerald Perry throwing haymakers before wrestling each other to the ground. Craig Nettles managed to get a punch in on Braves reliever Donnie Moore.

The late Champ Summers wanted to rush the Braves dugout and get at Perez but was restrained by Bob Watson. Braves slugger Bob Horner was on the disabled list with a broken wrist, but after the earlier events in the game, he suited up and joined his teammates in the dugout. After Summers slipped free from Watson, he bum rushed the Braves dugout to be met by Horner who, with the assistance of two Braves fans took him to the ground as the fight moved in around them. When the dust cleared, ejections were handed out all around.

To start the ninth inning, the Braves brought in the late Donnie Moore. Braves skipper Joe Torre was ready to put the game away and move on. He told Moore as much, but when he looked in Moore’s eyes, he knew the Braves would be fighting again. Moore promptly plunked Nettles in the small of the back and started walking to the dugout to accept his inevitable ejection. Nettles rushed at him, but was turned around and tackled by former Yankee teammate Chris Chambliss who took him high, while Braves catcher Bruce Benedict took him low. Kurt Bevacqua rushed the field from the Padres dugout swinging wildly at anything that moved. Gerald Perry landed a hilarious sucker punch on Tim Flannery.

Once more ejections were handed out and order was restored on the field. The Padres were not done though. They got into it with the Braves fans behind their dugout. Bevacqua, pulling a Ron Artest, went after the fans, but slipped in beer on top of the dugout and fell and the Braves fans began pummeling him. It took a security guard to get him away from the fans. One of the great images of the game was a shirtless Whitson returning to the dugout from the clubhouse to get into it with the fans. Once everything calmed down, the final tally was thirteen ejections and five fan arrests.

After the game, Braves manager Joe Torre let the press know exactly what he thought of Dick Williams. The words “idiot” and “gutless” were thrown around. To listen to the 1984 Padres tell the story, you would think the game was a turning point in their season. I don’t buy that. They were far ahead of the division at the time of the game and finished the season was a similarly large lead. They played no better after that point. They were, however, a very good baseball team. They would go on to stave off three straight elimination games against the Cubs in the NLCS before losing to a vastly superior Detroit Tigers team in the World Series.

As for the Braves, it was something of a lost season. They played well for a large portion of the year, but floundered as they fell out of contention. Joe Torre was fired after the season and replaced with the inept Eddie Haas. The game did cement Pascual Perez and Bob Horner as Atlanta favorites. Bob Horner showed himself as the consummate teammate, risking his own health to defend the Braves. Perez showed himself as the perfect entertainer: the instigator, the court jester, the comedian. There are those who look back on this game with embarrassment, but to a lot of us, it was simply great, great fun. Stupid, stupid fun.

2003 Topps Gonzalo Lopez 302 - Braves Card of the Day ⚾

Cards like this are when Topps first started fucking up the flagship set. The flagship set should basically serve as a kind of history book to the past season, while also priming the pump for the upcoming system. It’s one thing for the occasional #1 Draft Pick subset to make its way into the set occasionally. This was far worse.

If you don’t remember Gonzalo Lopez, there’s really no reason you should. His short injury riddled career never saw him rise above high A baseball. Now, he had some power and his stock as a prospect was rising, but he was nowhere near the big leagues. There was no place for this card in flagship. Isn’t this why clown sets like Bowman exist?

Of course, where fucking up the base set is concerned, Topps was just getting started.

2003 Topps Lopez 302a

2003 Topps Lopez 302b

1985 Topps Terry Forster 248 - Braves Card of the Day ⚾

If you grew up in the days of MLB.TV and regional sports networks and Extra Innings and so on, it might be hard to understand just how amazing the superstations really were. Baseball was no longer the NBC Game of the Week on Saturday afternoon and Monday nights on ABC before the NFL season started. It was there every single night. Even if you weren’t a Braves fan or a Cubs fan or a Mets fan, you could still watch baseball on WTBS, WGN or WOR.

One individual who loved the newfound glut of baseball games to watch was David Letterman. One player in particular caught his fancy. That player was Terry Forster. His comments were somewhat less than kind! “He’s a balloon.” “He is a load!” “A fat tub of goo.” In fairness to Letterman, these were more descriptions than value judgments. Actually, they were both.

Letterman kept at it. Show after show after show after show. It was good stuff. Letterman actually called Forster to apologize at some point, but still kept it up. Eventually, Forster made an appearance on Late Night with Letterman and was about as good a sport as you could possibly want. He said he was upset at first but then looked in the mirror and realized Letterman was right, and besides that, his wife has called him worse. He walked out with a sandwich and even did a cooking segment with Dave.

20 WAR careers out of the bullpen are not usual. Forster had a number of good to great years in the big leagues, including a few with the Braves. Even so, it was his brief brush with Late Night celebrity for which he’s most famous.

1985 Topps Forster 248a

1985 Topps Forster 248b

1983 Topps Bob Watson 572 - Braves Card of the Day ⚾

Bob Watson was a hard nosed ball player who was nearing the end of an excellent career when he joined the Braves. The Braves acquired Watson in a deal with the Yankees for Luke Danes. Well, his real name is Scott Patterson who is better known for his role on the Gilmore Girls. Baseball is weird like that.

Watson was also the first African-American GM to win a World Series when the despicable Yankees of 1996 beat the Braves that was totally the result of an MLB conspiracy and not the Braves choking after the first two games.

Even cooler, he also appeared in The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training. That’s cooler than any of Scott Patterson’s credits, and I’m a Gilmore Girls fan. (Don’t @ me.)

1983 Topps Watson 572a

1983 Topps Watson 572b

1984 Topps Rafael Ramirez - Braves Card of the Day ⚾

Rafael Ramirez was the shortstop with the big butt and the goofy smile who manned the middle of the infield for the Braves of the early 80s. I have no desire to look at the numbers because I do not want to be disabused of the notion that he and Glenn Hubbard are the single greatest double play combination in the history of the franchise.

Man, Raffy could be counted on to make highlight plays deep in the hole, and boot a number of balls hit right at him. He was a blast to watch play.

How in the world did he finish 16th in NL MVP voting in 1983? How in the world did he ever get a single MVP vote? Old baseball is weird. Love you Raffy, but MVP? Nah.

1984 Topps Ramirez 234a

1984 Topps Ramirez 234b

1998 Topps Mark Lemke 36 - Braves Card of the Day ⚾

So, I’m about to have something in common with Mark Lemke. There are a few things we already have in common. We’re both kind of homely looking. Neither of us have ever received a vote for National League MVP. Soon, just like the Lemmer, I will be single.

Yes, my wife of 15 years, together for 17, returned from her cruise with her Mom and my daughter to tell me straight up that she was leaving me. She loves me but she’s not in love with me. There’s nothing I did wrong. Yes, I got “It’s not you, it’s me” from my own wife. And yes, my future ex-wife looks at love like a forlorn 13 year old. And yes, there’s someone else. But that’s not the reason she’s leaving! Of course that isn’t the reason, and how dare I suggest otherwise. Just because she has someone else lined up, ready to go, is meaningless.

1998 Topps Lemke 36a

The past few days have been a whirlwind of emotions. I’ve been a raw nerve. Frankly, I’ve been pretty fucking mean to her. For that, there are no apologies. She has made a decision that means the first thing I won’t see every single day is the smile on my four year old daughter’s face. I’m going to lose my pets. I don’t get how I move on from that. Frankly, some of her actions to me have been pretty cruel and I feel like I get to respond however I choose.

Except, I don’t get to keep being mean to her. No matter how pissed off I am that my wife would rather runaway than confront our problems head on, we have a four year old daughter to worry about. She is now the only thing in my life that has any meaning. Every memory of the past 17 years might be worthless, but I have so many amazing ones from the last four. I’m going to work with my soon to be ex to shield my daughter as much as possible from the negative ramifications of her Mom’s actions.

So, now we start the process of taking apart what took 17 years to build. I’m under pressure from her to get it going quick so that she and “her” daughter can have some stability. (Funny, considering she’s the one who caused the instability.) This is not going to be fun.

So Lemmer, I don’t know if you ever plan on getting married. Despite what we have in common, if you do get married, you’ll need to look somewhere else for marital advice. It would appear I’m no good at it.

1998 Topps Lemke 36b

1979 Topps Larry McWilliams 504 - Braves Card of the Day ⚾

Braves Card of the Day - 1979 Topps Larry McWilliams 504

Larry McWilliams was absolutely fantastic in his 1978 rookie season. Unfortunately, he was never really good for the Braves again. Like Bob Walk before him though, he would go on to find success with the Pirates. Truthfully, the most memorable thing about Larry McWilliams with the Braves is the hair sticking out of his hat on his baseball cards.

1979 Topps McWilliams 504a

1979 Topps McWilliams 504b

1984 Topps Traded Ken Oberkfell 85T

Ken Oberkfell was a solid major league hitter.

Ken Oberkfell was a solid major league fielder.

Ken Oberkfell’s entire time in an Atlanta uniform was pointless. Just pointless. Nobody cared then, nobody cares now.

I hear he’s a nice guy though. That’s not something anyone who reads this would have to say about me.

1984 Topps Oberkfell 85Ta

1984 Topps Oberkfell 85Tb

1992 Topps Greg Olson 39 - Braves Card of the Day ⚾

1992 Topps Olson 39a

This is the real Greg Olson. Sure, the other guy, the one with the double Gs, provided far more value over the course of his career than the Braves catcher. The other Olson, however, was little more than a blip in Braves history. Greg Olson was the catcher when the Braves rose from last to first. Sure, I look back at his career through rose-colored and remember him as being better than he was. (I was just looking at his numbers and I could have swore he was a near .300 hitter once. He was not.)

Here’s what Greg Olson was though: he was the guy who caught Tom Glavine and John Smoltz and Steve Avery throughout the 1991 and 1992 seasons. He was the guy who always had something funny to say in the postgame scrum. He was the guy who helped provide Braves fans with two iconic moments.

One was not a great moment for Olson, but it did much to show his spirit and why he was beloved in Atlanta. It was September 18, 1992 and the Braves were battling the Astros. With Ken Caminiti on third, Pete Incaviglia lofted a fly ball to right. David Justice camped under the ball and came up firing for the plate. Caminiti dug in and rumbled to the plate like a fullback finding a hole in the line and deciding to take out the safety. The ball arrived just before Caminiti and he took out Olson with a brutal hit. Olson’s right leg bended in a most gruesome fashion. The crowd was nearly silent as they loaded the catcher onto the cart to get him off the field. As the cart left the field, Olson gave the chop to the crowd to let them know he was all right. If you were watching, you’d never forget that site.

Of course, Olson’s most iconic moment came at the end of Game 7 in 1992 NLCS. It wasn’t a baseball play. The biggest play of Olson’s career was an 8th inning double to give the Braves the one and only run they would need in Game 6. This time, he was simply the guy behind the plate when the Braves recorded the final out in Game 7. Olson ran out to the mound and jumped into the arms of John Smoltz. It’s another moment none of us will ever forget.

Thank you Greg Olson.

1992 Topps Olson 39b

2003 Topps Vinny Castilla 601 - Braves Card of the Day ⚾

Remember the off-season between the 2001 and 2002 seasons when the Braves signed young free agent outfielder Johnny Damon to man left field for the next four seasons? No? Bad things happen when the Braves go cheap.

The Braves chose to sign Castilla, the stud of Coors Field and nowhere else, as a cheap third base option and moved the team’s best player, Chipper Jones, to left field. Castilla was thoroughly awful the first year and perfectly eh the second. Chipper may not have been a great defensive third baseman, but he was awful in the outfield.

I liked Castilla. I hated when the Braves lost him to the Rockies in the expansion draft. The pop was legit. He had, however, a track record. After a number of great years in Denver, he did not play well for the Rays and he did not play well for the Astros. He was exactly as he appeared, but Time Warner had started cheaping out on acquisitions, so the Braves didn’t go after Damon. They moved the former MVP to left to make room for a has been.

Insanity.

2003 Topps Castilla 601a

2003 Topps Castilla 601b

1984 Topps RBI Leaders 133 - Braves Card of the Day

⚾ The best player on this baseball card is not in the hall of fame. The guys that is in the hall of fame could have played for the Braves, but the Braves didn’t want to get rid of Brad Komminsk. (Hat tip to @cardjunk.) The other guy was a great ballplayer that has every bit the hall of fame case as Harold Baines, even though neither really belong.

1984 Topps RBI 133a

1984 Topps RBI 133b

1989 Topps Jose Alvarez - Braves Card of the Day ⚾

Scab.

1981 Fleer Rick Camp 246 - Braves Card of the Day

If everything had gone according to plan, Rick Camp would have never left the Atlanta Fulton County Stadium bullpen on the 4th of July 1985. The Braves jumped out to a 3–1 lead on Doc Gooden and the New York Mets, but it was going to be a weird night. Gooden was out of the game in the third. Braves starter Rick Mahler was lifted in the 4th and his replacement, Jeff Dedmon, promptly gave up the lead to the Mets. The Mets expanded their lead throughout the game and the game went to the bottom of the eighth with the Braves down 4 to 7. The Mets sent Jesse Orosco, an All-Star each of the previous two seasons, to the mound to shut the Braves down.

1981 Fleer Camp 246a

That’s what should have happened. The game should have been over. Instead, the pointless Ken Oberkfell singled and Rick Cerone followed with a walk. Orosco settled down striking out Brad Komminsk before getting Paul Zuvella to fly out to center. It would be an understatement to say that the usually reliable Orosco hit a rough patch. He lost the strike zone. He walked the free swinging Claudell Washington to load the bases. He then walked Rafael Ramirez allowing the Braves to close the lead by a run. With Dale Murphy coming to the plate, Davey Johnson pulled Orosco for Doug Sisk. Murph laced a double to the fence clearing the bases and giving the Braves an 8–7 lead. That’s the lead the Braves took to the ninth.

Again, the game should have been over at this point. The previous December, the Braves signed Bruce Sutter to a big free agent contract. It was a big deal at the time and it was the move that the Braves hoped would make their fans forget about the Len Barker trade. Sutter had already established himself as one of the greatest closers in the history of the game. His performance with the Cubs and the Cardinals had made him a bona fide star. It seemed like a lock that he would shut down the Mets and the game would be over. Instead, he gave up three straight singles to Howard Johnson, Danny Heep and Lenny Dykstra allowing the Mets to tie the game.

The tenth, eleventh and twelfth innings passed without either team threatening. Then, in the top of the thirteenth, with two outs, Braves reliever Terry Forster gave up a two run homer to Howard Johnson. Up 10 to 8, the Mets brought in Tom Gorman to shut the Braves down. If he had, I doubt anyone would remember the game. Rafael Ramirez led off the inning with a single, but Gorman set Murphy and Gerald Perry down on strikes. Improbably and impossibly, he couldn’t get Terry Harper. Instead, Harper belted a home run to tie it up. The game was now on the path that made it legendary.

By the time Rick Camp entered the game to pitch in the 17th inning, it’s safe to say there weren’t many Braves fans left watching the game on TBS. It was already midnight on the west coast when he took the mound. Strangely enough, for the game on which his reputation rests, Camp didn’t pitch especially well. His first inning went without incident, but he ran into trouble in the 18th. He gave up a single to Howard Johnson to start the inning. He followed that up with an error on a Danny Heep bunt that sent HoJo to third with nobody out. Camp needed a strikeout, but Lenny Dykstra flied out to center and Johnson scored. The situation already looked dire for Camp and the Braves when they came to bat down a run in the bottom of the 18th. Perry and Harper both grounded out to start the inning. A comeback looked impossible.

1981 Fleer Camp 246b

The Braves bench was depleted so manager Eddie Haas had no choice but to let Rick Camp bat for himself. John Sterling was on play by play for TBS, and his words proved prophetic.

Ernie, if he hits a home run to tie this game, this game will be certified as absolutely the nuttiest in the history of baseball.

On a night where Jesse Orosco walked the bases loaded, Hall of Fame closer Bruce Sutter blew a save, and Terry Harper hit a game tying 12th inning home run, Rick Camp accomplished the most amazing and startling feat of the game. A pitcher with four extra base hits in his career hit a home run to tie the game in the bottom of the 18th. The stadium wasn’t full when he did it. The majority of the fans who watched the Braves religiously on TBS had already turned in for the night. No matter. Every fan in the stadium made themselves heard and I think it’s safe to say that in the living rooms of those homes where people were still awake there were fans screaming in the excitement of the moment. In the midst of a period of Braves baseball that didn’t yield a lot of memorable moments, this was one that stayed with all who witnessed it.

The home run is what everyone remembers and that’s good. Camp came unglued on the mound in the 19th and the Mets put five runs on the board. Remarkably, the Braves staged another come back in the bottom of the frame, but after getting two of the runs back, Rick Camp struck out with runners on the corners to end the game. (It was four in the morning in Atlanta and the Braves decided to go ahead with their 4th of July post-game fireworks display.)

2011 Topps Update Eric O’Flaherty US271 - Braves Card of the Day ⚾

Years ago when I was writing for Talking Chop, one of my first posts was about Topps declining to include a card of Braves reliever Eric O’Flaherty in their 2009 and 2010 sets. Of course, in 2011, EOF forced their hand with a season for the ages. (That would be the year where he had a sub 1.00 ERA and formed the greatest Braves bullpen ever along with Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel.)

I would go on to mention the Topps EOF card situation in post after post after post after post. This card has remained one of my favorite baseball cards of the past decade for this reason.

It also takes me back to one of my favorite periods of my Braves fandom. Back then, Braves twitter was just so much fun. It’s where the legend of O’Ventbrel was born. They had other nicknames too. I believe EOF was SIT DOWN, Venters was SHUT UP and Kimbrel was GO HOME. So much fun. Unfortunately, arm injuries would inflict Venters and EOF, but that 2011 bullpen was one for the ages.

1950 Bowman Willard Marshall 73 - Braves Card of the Day ⚾

There was a time that it wasn’t hard to find a card show. I grew up in Columbus, GA, and even in a town our size, we had regular card shows. Most of the local shows were at Peachtree Mall, the most popular shopping destination in town. There were never more than a handful of dealers, but to the eyes of this young collector, there were so many wonderful cards to be had. I often found the shows overwhelming and wouldn’t know where to look first. Still, I would find something I wanted and would inevitably spend every dollar in my wallet.

It was a different era for sure. Even in a city the size of Columbus, there were several card shops throughout town. I’d go whenever I could persuade my Mom to take me. Sure, the owner had little interest in catering to a kid who wanted to look at everything. Still, even under the harsh stare of the owner, I could have spent hours flipping through every available card in the shop. My mother must have spent countless hours sitting in her car waiting for me to buy my cards so she could go home.

It was also a time where at any store with a magazine rack, you could find a magazine about baseball card collecting. The two I remember most are Baseball Cards and Sport’s Collector’s Digest, which is still in print today. Unlike the collecting magazines published today by Beckett, these weren’t glorified price guides where the editorial content was underwritten and uninteresting. These magazines relished in telling stories of the history of baseball card collecting. They were an indispensable guide to the history of the hobby.

1950 Bowman Marshall 73a

This was a time when baseball cards were everywhere. We didn’t need card shows, card shops or magazines for news about the latest sets. Topps, Fleer and Donruss released their sets at the beginning of the season. After the season was over, I could count on the Traded and Update sets appearing at the local card shop. Card collecting was easy. The most valuable service provided by the shows, and by the shops, and by the magazines of the time was the window they provided into the world of vintage trading cards.

These were the cards that were displayed under glass at the card show. These were the cards that the owner of the card shop refused to let a kid like me touch. These were the cards that were featured in beautiful photography in the pages of the collecting magazines. These were the cards that every collector lusted over. These were the cards that were collected by our fathers when they were our age. The names on the cards are as familiar as the game itself. There was Stan Musial and Mickey Mantle. Sandy Koufax, Ted Williams and Jackie Robinson. Roberto Clemente, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron. For anyone who loved baseball and loved the hobby, they were the stuff from which dreams were made.

They were also out of my reach. For a young boy living on an allowance, or even on his meager hourly wage from working in the kitchen of a pizza joint, the cards were simply unobtainable. It was obvious that this young Braves fan wouldn’t be able to afford a Hank Aaron or an Eddie Mathews or a Warren Spahn card any time soon. It was just as unlikely that I would be able to get my hands on a Joe Adcock or a Lew Burdette. Of course, that didn’t stop the lust.

There was one card in particular at my favorite of the local card shops with which I had fallen in love. The card was almost shaped like a square. The colors were exaggerated, but accurate. I had no idea whether this was an actual photo or some sort of weird painting and photo combination. The left-handed pitcher pictured on the card was shown with his leg held high in a kick as he prepared to deliver a pitch to the plate. From the vantage point, you could even see the spikes on his shoe. The card was a 1950 Bowman Warren Spahn and I was obsessed with the card. It would be years before I was able to add the card to my collection.

1950 Bowman Marshall 73b

The set would become one of my favorites. I began to notice other cards from the set at card shows. Jackie Robinson was shown taking a practice swing as he approached home plate. Ted Williams appeared to be watching a pop up sail into the seats. Richie Ashburn was staring straight ahead, as if to let the pitcher know that the ball would not be thrown past him. Needless to say, I couldn’t afford any of these cards.

Still, all hope wasn’t lost if you were a kid who fell in love with a vintage set. There was a secret weapon that allowed you to get a card from that set you craved. That weapon was “the box”. Every shop had one. Seemingly, every dealer at a card show had one as well. It was a box filled with cards from older sets. They were never cards of the star players. Truth be told, even the above average players couldn’t be found in the box. The box never held cards in mint condition. There was usually a price written on the outside of the box. It might be a dime or a nickel or a quarter. The box would be filled with vintage baseball cards.

When I first discovered and approached the box, I had one goal. I wanted a card featuring a Braves player from 1950 Bowman. How simple is that? At the time, it wasn’t quite as simple. There’s no telling the collecting gold I passed over looking for a simple 1950 Bowman Braves card. I suppose since this was Georgia, everyone else was after the Braves as well. I was on the hunt. It would take months, but I would finally get my card.

I don’t remember if I found the card at a card show or at the local card shop. I only remember pulling it from the box. I must have thumbed through hundreds of cards in that box before I found the card I wanted. It was, and is, beautiful. The camera captured the player making a leaping grab of a line drive. The Braves logo on his uniform is prominent and gorgeous. The player is Willard Marshall. It was my first vintage baseball card and remains one of the most treasured possessions in my collection.

It isn’t as easy to find a card show in 2019, but when you do, you can still find the box. Almost every dealer at every table has one. The price has gone up to a dollar or more on most of the boxes. Still, they are filled with collecting gold and are reason enough to attend any card show.

Willard Marshall may not be a household name, but he had a respectable career and was a genuine American hero. After a rookie season with the New York Giants in 1942 that led to his selection as a reserve for the National League All-Star team, Marshall enlisted into the Marines. He would spend three years in the military and would serve in the Pacific during World War 2. He returned to the Giants in 1946 and would enter the most productive stretch of his career. In 1947, he would slug 36 home runs and have his career season, receiving another All-Star game selection and finishing in the MVP voting. His last year with the Giants was in 1949, and he would appear in his final All-Star game, as a starter no less, and would again appear in the MVP voting.

The Boston Braves would send Al Dark and Eddie Stanky to the Giants for a package of players that included Marshall. Marshall would prove a solid addition to the Boston Braves lineup, but he would never again match the success he had with the Giants. His most notable accomplishment with the Braves was starting 123 games in right field in 1951 without making a single error. The Braves would sell Marshall to the Reds early in the 1952 season and would end his career a few years later as a bit player for the Chicago White Sox. He would be pictured in a Braves uniform in cards from 1950, 1951 and 1952.

1969 Topps Pat Jarvis 282 - Braves Card of the Day ⚾

Reading about Pat Jarvis’s 19 year career as sheriff in Dekalb County is entertaining. He served 15 months in federal prison for taking kickbacks. This means he can be accurately described as one of the least corrupt sheriff’s in the county’s recent history.

1969 Topps Jarvis 282a

1969 Topps Jarvis 282b

2009 Topps Update Adam LaRoche UH264 - Braves Card of the Day ⚾

Hey Adam. You’re wrong. Kids are better off in school than the locker room.

Loved watching you hit though.

2009 Topps LaRoche UH264a2009 Topps LaRoche UH264b

1982 Topps Bob Walk 296 - Braves Card of the Day ⚾

I’m not sure why I think of Bob Walk as a player for the Atlanta Braves first and foremost. He really wasn’t with the team for that long. The three seasons he did play in Atlanta were pretty bad. All of his good years were in Pittsburgh. On top of that, the Braves traded one of my favorite players, Gary Matthews, for him.

Yet, Walk was a guy on TBS when I first became a Braves fan so that’s how I’ll always see him.

1978 Topps Eddie Solomon 598 - Braves Card of the Day ⚾

The Braves traded for journeyman reliever Eddie Solomon before the start of the 1977 season and he was a solid member of the bullpen all three seasons. The Braves would send him away after 1979 for a guy who would never pitch an inning in the big leagues. I suppose the lesson is that good relievers serve no function on bad baseball teams.