All-Decade Kansas City Royals

The 1970s

One of the cornerstone themes of the Topps Shoebox Legends binders is the all-decade team pages. It paints a snapshot of the organization over the course of that particular decade. The 1970s Kansas City Royals all-decade team is stocked with guys who turned the expansion team into one of the most formidable teams of the latter part of the decade.

The outfield is made up of Piniella, Amos, and Cowens. Around the infield, you have HOFer George Brett at third, Patek and White manning up the middle with Mayberry covering first. Porter is the backstop with Splittorff his battery mate. I could have gone Dennis Leonard, or Steve Busby and his two no-hitters here in place of Paul Splittorff, but felt Paul had enough strong seasons and had been with the club the entire span of the 1970s. If you feel it should be Leonard, definitely let me hear about it. As I have said, these pages are fluid so if Leonard makes more sense, that’s an easy fix!

Maybe the only other spot I was 50/50 on, would have been second base and slotting in Cookie Rojas there. Cookie was a four-time All-Star from 71-75 but felt Frank White made a bigger impact on the club with his defense and speed.

This was definitely one of the franchises of the decade. After coming into the American League in 1969, they wasted no time in being competitive with a second-place finish in the AL West in ’71. If not having to deal with the Yankees, and losing three straight ALCS (1976-1978), I feel they could have easily grabbed a World Series or two in that run. They had the pitching, speed, and defense to match up with both the Big Red Machine and the Los Angeles Dodgers over in the National League.

| Between the Foul Poles | Lou Piniella was a three-time Manager of the Year Award winner … Amos Otis was originally drafted by the Red Sox in the 5th-round of the 1965 amateur draft … Al Cowens won a Gold Glove and finished second to Rod Carew for the AL MVP in ’77 … Freddie Patek was a two-time All-Star and wreaked havoc on the base paths during the decade. He led the AL with 53 in ’77 … Paul Slittorff become the first Royals pitcher to win 20 games (1973), he’s also the Royals’ all-time victories leader … Frank White holds the franchise record for eight Glove Gloves, he also hit for the cycle twice (1979, 1982) … George Brett is the only player to win batting titles in three decades; 1976 (.333), 1980 (.390), and 1990 (.329) … Darrell Porter was a four-time All-Star and won both the 1982 NLCS and World Series MVP Awards with the Cardinals … John Mayberry led the American League in walks in 1973 (122) and 1975 (119) … Six of the above players are in the Royals Hall of Fame: Otis, Patek, Splitorff, White, Brett, and Mayberry.

Favorite card: 1977 Topps George Brett
Favorite card design: 1976 Topps
Least favorite card design: 1977 Topps
Hall of Famer(s): George Brett
Red Sox or ex-Red Sox: None, but see above … Frank White was a coach (1994-96)
Longest career: Brett, 21 years
Shortest career: Al Cowens, 13 years
Most teams played for: 4, multiple players
Best nickname: Fred “The Cricket” Patek

An Iconic Card. An Iconic Set.

The 1930s – 1950s

Being the first card in the Topps baseball set brings a lot of history. The lead-off card is the beginning of another spring, another year of hope for one’s favorite team or player, that this year is our year.

In 1953 Topps bestowed the honor of being card number one to Jack Roosevelt Robinson. Jackie was coming off another All-Star and MVP-caliber season, one in which he led the National League in on-base percentage with an astounding .440! In fact, I had never realized just how much of an on-base machine Robinson had been. His lowest was .367 and was over .400 six times in his career in Brooklyn. His lone season in the Negro League was .449.

For vintage card and set collectors, card number one can present itself with a number of challenges in searching for a decent condition specimen. These cards weren’t put into plastic sheets, one-touches, or any sort of protected case. They often were in shoeboxes, tacked to a wall, or at the top of a stack of cards held together with an elastic band. Being the first card in the set, they often took the brunt of the collector taking these cardboard icons in and out of boxes or maybe a back pocket. They can be scuffed, faded, creased, and so forth as a result of these everyday occurrences.

I had been looking for a Jackie Robinson card for some time, but never pulled the trigger. Of course in hindsight, I should have done so prior to the COVID pandemic, when vintage cards hadn’t gone through the roof. The above would have cost me three times less than it did back in 2019. So a couple weeks, I decided to sell off some cards through Dylan’s Twitter Wednesday Night Vintage Sell/Trade thread (@CardStory). One of those cards was a graded T205 Gold Border Tris Speaker. It was a beautiful, low-grade card but it didn’t really fit the focus of my collection. I have been on a vintage kick of sorts for a while, but lately, it’s been focused on cards from the 1930s through the 1950s.

I had decided I wanted to take the money from the Speaker and be sure I obtained at least one significant iconic card. I narrowed it down to three cards from the 1950s. 1953 Bowman Pee Wee Reese, 1953 Topps Satchel Paige, and either a 1953 or 1955 Topps Jackie Robinson. I ultimately chose the 1953 Topps Robinson because it’s card number one in one of the most iconic Topps sets produced. It’s literally a work of fine art.

As a side note on the 1953 Topps set and this incredible artwork, it’s believed that Topps felt that the paintings may have avoided further licensing issues with Bowman as to the use of photographic images for dual-signed players. Bowman was using the opposite approach going from paintings to photographs in 1953. Topps provided black and white 8 by 10 photos to four or five artists. The artists didn’t necessarily even know who the players were, they were told the uniform colors and created their own backgrounds to use behind the players from ballpark photos.

There’s not much to say that hasn’t been said or written about Jackie Robinson. He was an incredible athlete first who became an incredible baseball player second. It reminds me of a story I heard the great Vin Scully recall on The Dan Patrick Show years ago. Scully was reminiscing about how Jackie was such a competitor and how, having never been on ice skates, Robinson was determined to learn how and try to beat Scully in a race. Scully won, but it was an example of how much of an athlete the former was.

1953 Topps #1 Jackie Robinson
I bought this card from a long-time reputable dealer’s online store. I had been searching on eBay for a couple weeks but it seemed any decent Jackie was getting snatched up before I could figure out which card I would land on. Also, thanks to my Twitter card followers for helping me with choosing the above card over one with a cleaner front, but several paper loss spots on the reverse. The above card certainly has some well-loved corners, but it’s well-center and still retains a lot of eye appeal with its sharp vibrant color. With this shoebox, I’ve been trying to acquire at least one card of any HOFer that’s within my budget, along with any stars, minor stars, and characters of the era. Seeing that I didn’t have a card of Jackie, landing this iconic absolute beauty of an iconic man was one of the reasons he belongs in The Vintage Shoebox Collection.

All-Decade Pittsburgh Pirates

The 1960s

One of the cornerstone themes of the Topps Shoebox Legends binders is the all-decade team pages. It paints a snapshot of the organization over the course of that particular decade. The 1960s Pittsburgh Pirates was one of the easier teams to assemble outside of maybe who the starting pitcher would be. If you feel it should be Bob Friend, I would love to hear from you. One of the great things with these pages is they’re not locked down. I wasn’t alive during the 60s to witness baseball of this era, so I welcome input from others who know the decade better than me. Drop me a line in the comments or on Twitter!

Since the current Pirates are actually playing well, thanks to the youth movement, I felt it would be a good time to roll out the Pirates all-decade team of the 1960s. One thing you notice right away on these Bucs cards is the cool, vest-style uniforms they wore. It’s such a classic vintage look and I always felt these were some of the sharpest looking unis of all time. I do have a question, as I seem to only see this on Pirates cards of the 1960s; why did they use a patch at times on the cap (see Clemente) instead of the normal stitched-on logo?

The outfield is made up of two Hall of Famers anchoring the corner spots in Stargell and Clemente. For centerfield, I chose Matty Alou over Bill Virdon based on his offense output compared to Virdon’s. Alou really came into his own after being traded out of San Francisco as he hit .342, .338, .332, .331. (1966-69). Around the horn, I chose Hoak at third, Alley and, HOFer Mazeroski manning up the middle with Clendenon covering first. Burgess is the backstop with Veale his battery mate. Again, I could have gone Bob Friend in place of Veale, and maybe Bob Bailey over Hoak at the hot corner. Again, would love to hear arguments for either spot or others as this is a fluid page.

Unfortunately, their play didn’t match their sharp-dressed ways. Outside of their 1960 World Series win, Pittsburgh pretty much sat right in the middle of the 10-team, National League during the decade. Their best effort was their third-place finish in ’66 when they fell short three games to the Dodgers and Giants. Outside of Veale and Friend, they just didn’t have the starting pitching to make a run every year. Near the close of the decade, the Pirates were starting to bolster their staff with home-grown talent in Blass, Ellis, and Moose. They would help propel the team to the top of the NL at the beginning of the 1970s.

| Between the Foul Poles | In 1979 Willie Stargell became the first and currently only player to win the NL MVP, the NL Championship Series MVP, and the World Series MVP Awards in one season … Matty Alou and his two brothers (Felipe, Jesus) made history on September 10, 1963, when they played together for the San Francisco Giants and they all batted in the eighth-inning against the New York Mets … Bob Clemente won a Gold Glove award every year from 1961 until his final season in 1972. He shares the record for most Gold Glove awards by outfielders (12) with Willie Mays … Gene Alley won back-to-back Gold Gloves (67,68) … Bob Veale led the NL in strikeouts AND walks in 1964 … Bill Mazeroski led all NL second basemen in assists nine times, double plays eight times, putouts five times, and fielding percentage three times … Don Hoak was married to singer and actress Jill Corey … Smoky Burgess is a member of the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame … Donn Clendenon hit three home runs for the Miracle Mets in the 1969 World Series, earning him Series MVP honors.

Favorite card: 1962 Topps Smoky Burgess
Favorite card design: 1965 Topps
Least favorite card design: 1969 Topps
Hall of Famer(s): Willie Stargell, Bob Clemente, Bill Mazeroski
Red Sox or ex-Red Sox: Bob Veale (1972-74)
Longest career: Stargell, 21 years
Shortest career: Don Hoak, Gene Alley, 11 years
Most teams played for: 5, Burgess, Hoak
Best nickname: Willie “Pops” Stargell

Bunting Their Way On

The 1970s

One of the cool things with vintage cards is the photography and the different posed shots of that era. The 1960s and 1970s Topps sets are filled with one such shot: the bunt. More often than not, your Topps card featuring said pose was almost always that of a lightweight hitting middle infielder. You were never going to see a Willie Mays, Frank Howard, or Dick Allen bunting in all their cardboard glory. No, instead you got the likes of Chico Ruiz, Gary Sutterland, Cesar Gutierrez, or Sonny Jackson. On occasion you might get a superstar drag bunting for a base hit—see Pete Rose’s 1974 Topps card.

One of the issues with not seeing these posed shots in today’s Topps flagship sets is that bunting has been all but abandoned in the game. You can’t eye-popping exit velocity and launch angle numbers when you’re dropping a bunt down the first baseline. Along with no squared-up bunting poses, we don’t see dugout shots, bats with donuts, or players leaning against the batting cage.

In both of my Topps Shoebox Legends binders of the 60s and 70s, there are a couple of bunting-themed pages. Today’s post is one from the latter album.

This page represents a cross-section of middle infielders and outfielders of which between them, you have 13 all-star selections. You also have a variety of hand placements on the bat as well, some appear to be looking for a quick trip to the DL from a well-placed fastball. The biggest star on the page is clearly Bert Campaneris. He also was no stranger to the bunting pose as he squares up on his 1966, 1972, and 1976 Topps cards.

I would love to know what your favorite vintage Topps bunt/bunting cards are, drop me a line!

| Between the foul poles | Dave Chalk was traded to the Texas Rangers from the California Angels straight up for Bert Campaneris in May 1979 … Paul Blair owns eight Gold Glove Awards as one of the premier defensive centerfielders of his time … Jose Cardenal is the cousin of Bert Campaneris … Fred Patek a three-time All-Star and was inducted into the Kansas City Royals Hall of Fame in 1992 … Bert Campaneris was a six-time All-Star, a six-time American League stolen bases champion, and the first big leaguer to play all nine positions in a single game … On June 21, 1970, Cesar Gutierrez set a major league record for consecutive hits in an extra-inning game with six singles and a triple for the Tigers in a 9-8, 12-inning win over the Cleveland Indians … In 1978, Ivan de Jesus led the National League in runs scored with 104. Ivan was traded by the Cubs to the Phillies for Larry Bowa and Ryne Sandberg …. ouch … Tim Cullen was a member of the 1967 Topps All-Star Rookie Team … Winston Llenas showed some pop in the minors but it never translated to the bigs. In 1970 he led the Pacific Coast League with 108 RBI.

Favorite card: 1976 Topps Bert Campaneris
Favorite card design: 1971 Topps, something about the black borders
Least favorite card design: 1970 Topps
Hall of Famer(s): None
Red Sox or ex-Red Sox: Tim Cullen was originally signed by Sox in ’64, but was drafted by the Senators in November of that year.
Longest career: Campaneris, 19 years
Shortest career: Cesar Gutierrez, 4 years
Most teams played for: 9, Jose Cardenal
Best nickname: Freddie “The Flea” Patek