Tuesday, August 14, 2012
Into the Sunset, Pt. 3: Al Hrabosky
In baseball, there's some players you just have to like.
Jim Thome, Mark Fidrych, and Roberto Clemente are a few that come to mind. I've never come across anyone who isn't a Jim Thome fan.
Al Hrabosky is someone I'd put on that list, without question.
He seems to be one of those "cult" figures that has only gained in popularity over time.
Best I can remember, he's one of the first players I was intensely interested in as a young baseball fan. I always thought "The Mad Hungarian" was one of the best nicknames in the game's history, and I still do to this day.
During his playing days, I'm sure quite a few baseball fans (and perhaps some opposing players) thought Hrabosky's whole routine was some sort of "act".
You probably know what I'm talking about. The mulling behind the mound, followed by him slamming the ball into his mitt, while dramatically turning to face the hitter.
The first time I saw that intense glare, I knew it was no act.
This guy was a true competitor, yet you could see how much he loved playing the game from every pitch he threw. The game was meant to be played by people like "The Mad Hungarian".
Every generation of baseball needs to have a "character" like Al Hrabosky.
For that reason, he'll be the first pitcher I'll be showcasing in this theme.
It took a little deliberation on my part to decide which pitcher to feature. Since I hadn't represented the 1990's yet, I searched for a hurler from that decade, but I felt Hrabosky would make for a better post. Besides, it's easier to do with guys from the '80s, since most of them only had three final issues.
It might also have something to do with the fact of the insane number of sets that were released in the '90s. It's hard to track down more than a couple final issues of most guys.
If I had Hrabosky's 1979 Topps issue, I'd probably rate that as his "peak year" of cardboard. But, alas, it hasn't found its way into my hands yet. Judging from the shot on his '79 card, I'd say he was the original "fear the beard" poster child. (Look for that one on the "Dime Box Nine" list in the near future.)
From the cards I own, I chose 1973 as the peak year for Hrabosky, his first solo issue.
Given how famous his "Fu Manchu" beard has become, it's a little difficult to imagine "The Mad Hungarian" without it.
That's why I love his '73 issue, though. It captures a time before the world knew of the impact Al Hrabosky would have on the game of baseball, back when he was just another ordinary big league pitcher.
His career would end in 1982, just nine years after this card was released.
On that note, let's take a look at how Al Hrabosky went "into the sunset".
I won't officially count this one towards Hrabosky's "final cards", but it deserves a mention.
A few of these Senior League cards have found their way into my collection within the last year. This one is my favorite of them all, without question.
Except for the gray in his beard, it doesn't seem like much has changed. He still has that ferocious delivery to the plate.
The love of the game is still there.
After eight years in St. Louis and two with the Royals, Hrabosky spent the final three years of his career with the Atlanta Braves.
He'd post a sparkling 1.07 ERA in '81, but would hang them up for good after sporting a mediocre 5.54 ERA in 1982.
Fleer didn't even include "The Mad Hungarian" in their 1983 set.
As a result, Hrabosky's final Fleer issue comes from 1982, a set which I still feel is vastly underrated.
However, I will say that this one isn't one of Fleer's finest cards from that year.
An out-of-focus shot, an awkward pose, and an empty stadium easily makes this my least favorite of Hrabosky's final cards.
Donruss was the only company to issue a card of Hrabosky in 1983.
The final two "sunset" cards of his could easily be categorized as "1a" and "1b". It was tough to put this one at #2, although I still give Donruss tons of credit for being the only one to give Hrabosky a 1983 send-off.
This is one of the few cards in my collection that scares me a little bit. With that menacing stare and that awesome mustache, I'm probably not the only one.
Hrabosky was released by the Braves after the '82 season. Until I did a little research for this post, I had no idea that Hrabosky signed with the White Sox during spring training in '83. (He'd retire before throwing a pitch in Chicago.)
"The Mad Hungarian" on the South Side of Chicago.
Now that's something I would've loved to see.
Although Topps also left Hrabosky out of their 1983 set, I feel that they did the finest job of sending him "into the sunset".
In terms of design, 1982 Topps would be around the middle of the pack. I'm not a huge fan of it (the facsimile signature is especially intrusive on this one), but it's not in the bottom rung of Topps issues, by any means.
The in-action shot is what puts this one over the top in my book. I've always preferred them over posed photos, especially when it comes to final cards.
Hrabosky looked like he was about to uncork a 200 MPH fastball every time he threw a pitch to the plate. This card is the greatest example of that, and the reason I picked it as Hrabosky's best final card.
It tells you everything you need to know about the man who was "The Mad Hungarian".