1955 Bowman Eddie Mathews #103 - Braves Card of the Day ⚾

I love 1955 Bowman, even if the console television design is objectively ugly. (Please don’t @ me.) The most astonishing thing about this card to me is that picture of Mathews. He looks very young on most of his cards in the early to mid 50s, mostly because he WAS young, but that’s a baby face on this card. That’s not the face of one of the team’s two fearsome sluggers.

I have two of these baseball cards and I wish I knew where the second came from. I’m certain that the first came in a giant lot of Braves cards I purchased from Dayton (@BravesAmerica on Twitter). I have no idea why I bought the second. I don’t see it anywhere in my eBay purchase history or in my email indicating that I received it in a trade or purchased it from some other source.

1951 Bowman Sam Jethroe 242 - Braves Card of the Day ⚾

The Braves have their own Hall of Fame as most major league teams do. As as institution, the Braves Hall of Fame is hard to take seriously because they have chosen to ignore large portions of team history. If I’m spitballing, the names off the top of my head that belong include Rico Carty, Joe Torre, Bob Horner, Gene Garber, Ron Gant, Jim Whitney, Terry Pendleton, Wally Berger, Johnny Logan, Joe Adcock, Bob Elliott, and the two most egregious omissions, Lew Burdette and Sam Jethroe.

Neither exclusion makes a lick of sense, but for purely historical reasons, the exclusion of Jethroe rankles. Sam Jethroe integrated the Boston Braves a full nine years before the crosstown Red Sox would integrate, and far too late for Jethroe to have the major league career he deserved. He played in the Negro Leagues pre-integration. He played well in the Dodgers system but they didn’t have a spot for him. Finally, he got to play big league ball in 1950 for the Braves and won Rookie of the Year. He was 33 years old with declining eyesight, but the Jet was just that good, even if he only had a few years left in the tank.

He went through exactly what you think he would have went through in his quest to be a big leaguer. Bigoted fans and opponents. Forced into being a loner in his own clubhouse. Even if you discard his rookie of the year season, Jethroe deserves the honor because he was the first player to endure integration with the franchise. If that alone isn’t worthy of having a Hall of Fame, what exactly is the point?

1964 Topps Rookie Stars Braves #541 - Braves Card of the Day ⚾

I’ve never been a fan of multiple player rookie cards. That’s nothing against Phil Roof. He had a serviceable career that stretched across 15 seasons as a player and many more as a major league coach and a minor league manager. That’s all well and good. As a Braves fan, I just don’t want him on Phil Niekro’s rookie card.

Here’s a summary of Phil Roof’s time with the Braves: he was called up in 1961 at 19 years old and caught the final inning of the game without a single plate appearance. In 1964, Roof started a game in May and after two at-bats, without hits, he was replaced for a pinch hitter. He would never appear again in a Braves uniform.

He also had a rookie card for the Braves in the 1963 Topps set. His two cards match the number of games he appeared in with the Braves. Now, over 50 years later, I’m writing about him instead of writing about Knucksie, all because Topps put them on a baseball card together.

1957 Topps Chuck Tanner 392 - Braves Card of the Day ⚾

In his first go around with the Braves, as a player, Chuck Tanner belted a home run on the very first pitch of the very first at-bat of his major league career. It was the highlight of his replacement level career as a big leaguer.

Better things were ahead though. Tanner managed the great Pirates teams of the late 1970s. They were massively fun to watch. When the Braves brought Tanner in to manage in 1986, it was hoped he’d bring the same sense of fun to the Braves, but those were dreadful baseball teams. He would eventually be replaced by the pointless Russ Nixon.

Tanner’s biggest contribution to the Braves was bringing Willie Stargell with him. Sarge would spend around a decade with the organization as 1st base coach and minor league hitting instructor. His most famous Braves pupil was the great Chipper Jones, who has never hesitated to give Stargell credit.

1959 Topps Baseball Thrills 467 - Braves Card of the Day ⚾

It has always eaten at Hank Aaron that the Braves dropped the 1958 World Series, especially after leading 3 games to 1 over the Yankees. Aaron felt like a team that won two in a row would be regarded as a truly great team. That is all the great Big Red Machine won after all. It was a missed opportunity.

It is regrettable that the greatest of all the Braves had so few chances to showcase his talent in the postseason. In those few chances he got, the 1957 World Series, the 1958 World Series and the first NLCS in 1969, he raked. His slash line is a stunning .362/.407/.710 across 17 postseason games.

Milwaukee stayed competitive in the 1959 and 1960 seasons, but then started a fade that would last most of the decade, well into the team’s move to Atlanta. Sure, the team’s record wouldn’t dip below .500 until 1967, but they were never in any real contention for the NL pennant. The 1969 season was terrific, but they were far short of being a great baseball team and were eaten up and spit out by the Miracle Mets. Except for Hank Aaron. Hank Aaron raked.

The Hammer didn’t have nearly the post-season opportunities his talent deserved, but it was great that Topps was able to capture one of his best moments with this card. While I would prefer a great color photo of Hank watching his home run ball fly, the painted over photo works too. There aren’t any bad Hank Aaron cards anyway.

1971 Topps Hal King 88 - Braves Card of the Day ⚾

This is a fine baseball card. The black borders on the 1971 flagship set were great and it made for the best “change of pace” set Topps ever released. The picture of the Braves starting catcher for the 1970 season, Hal King, is great. I mean, if you are just going to take a posed picture of a catcher, wouldn’t you rather see him in a crouch of his catching mitt than a boring old hatless headshot?

1954 Topps Roy Smalley 231 - Braves Card of the Day ⚾

Roy Smalley Jr., who played a scant 25 games for the Braves in 1954 during his 11 year career, was not really a player of any note. In a fully integrated league, there probably wouldn’t have been a place for him. He would father Roy Smalley III who had a number of excellent seasons with the Twins and the Yankees. I hope Smalley was able to take pleasure at his son’s accomplishments.

There are a few other interesting notes to share about Roy Smalley. He was displaced by Ernie Banks as the Cubs regular shortstop. His brother in law was Gene Mauch, often lauded as one of the great baseball managers ever. As would sometimes happen in Chicago, Smalley was booed often and was even roasted in the papers by Mike Royko.

1966 Topps Phil Niekro #28 - Braves Card of the Day ⚾

Early in Niekro’s career, he was misused by the Braves. It seems obvious to state it out loud, but knuckleball pitchers should start games. Bringing a knuckleballer into a game as a reliever, especially with runners on base, is just asking for trouble. They are going to walk people. They are going to have passed balls. Truth is, the more the ball is knuckling, the more likely they are to have the occasional walk and/or passed ball or wild pitch.

In 1964 and 1965, the Braves let Phil Niekro start a single game. He still pitched well and pretty much forced the team to keep him on the roster in 65 by pitching so well. In 1966, he was again in the bullpen and was much less effective. In 1967, the Braves finally gave him 20 starts and he blossomed into a star. By 1968, he would be a full time member of the rotation, and would continue to be used out of the bullpen between starts for years and years and years. I wonder how many games the Braves cost themselves in those three years by not using the future Hall of Fame pitcher correctly.

1962 Topps Del Crandall 443 - Braves Card of the Day ⚾

Crandall had been the Braves catcher for a decade when shoulder troubles limited his playing time in the 1961 season. A young kid named Joe Torre would come up and make his mark almost immediately. Still, upon his return in 1962, Crandall would once again be the Braves primary catcher. He responded with his eighth and final All Star season. He also received MVP votes for the seventh and final time in his career. He would slowly be phased out in favor of Torre before bouncing around as a backup catcher for a few years.

Del Crandall is one of the more under-appreciated Braves greats.

1975 Topps Gary Gentry #393 - Braves Card of the Day ⚾

Gary Gentry just looks like a player that belongs on a baseball card in the 1970s. He is one of those guys the Braves picked up who was perfectly OK in his first year, not as good in the second year when he gets injured and then struggles through a final attempt before the team gives up on him.

The worst part is the Braves gave up freaking Felix Milan for him, and Felix had a number of good years left in him.