Tuesday, October 2, 2012
Just plain wrong
Much of my collection revolves around teams.
I've stored my "keeper" cards by team for as long as I can remember. In the cases of some players, I pick and choose what to collect, based on what uniform they're wearing. (For instance, I collect cards of Rickey Henderson as a Padre, but not a Yankee.)
This focus on each individual team has had a big impact on how I collect, in many ways.
Perhaps the most obvious example of this is through my inherent fascination with players who only wore a certain uniform for an extremely short period of time.
Most of them can be classified as "unfamiliar". That's what makes them so great, in my view.
However, some manage to completely breeze past the label of "unfamiliar". Rick Ankiel in a Royals jersey is unfamiliar.
Ralph Branca as a Yankee is just plain wrong.
After years of pitching for the rival Brooklyn Dodgers, Branca donned the pinstripes for five games near the end of the 1954 season.
It's hard to believe that a man who became so closely tied with the Dodgers actually went on to play in New York, under the tutelage of Casey Stengel. (Who makes a cameo on this card.)
While we're on the topic of pinstripes...
Throughout the history of baseball, hundreds of players have suited up for both the Yankees and Red Sox during their career.
Among them are Sparky Lyle, David Cone, and, of course, Babe Ruth. (Here's a full list.)
However, none of them looked as awkward as Elston Howard during his brief stint with the rival Red Sox.
He won an MVP award with the Yankees in 1963. His number 32 is retired by the franchise. He's a part of Yankee Stadium's hallowed Monument Park.
It's no wonder that any talk of his time with Boston usually gets swept under the rug. Heck, I didn't even know this card existed until I found it in a quarter bin a couple years ago.
Howard's sudden lack of pinstripes will never look appropriate.
This is one of my favorite cards, just because of how very wrong it is.
Steve Carlton had a long, long Hall of Fame career. Perhaps a little too long, judging from what his stats have to say about it.
He pitched for five teams during the final three years of his career. His final stop came with the Twins, a franchise who was only in its fourth year of existence when "Lefty" made his big-league debut way back in 1965.
Everything about this card is wrong. Carlton's facial expression, the seemingly bad lighting, and the uniform.
Especially the uniform.
As far as hometown guys go, John Kruk is an anomaly.
Usually, it's the non-Chicago uniforms that belong in this category. Billy Williams in an A's jersey is wrong. Nellie Fox in an Astros jersey is wrong.
In the case of Mr. Kruk, the opposite is true.
Some fans might remember Kruk as a San Diego Padre. Most probably remember him from his Phillies days.
I think it's safe to say that no baseball fan remembers Kruk from his 45-game tenure with the White Sox in '95.
The Windy City just doesn't suit him.
In terms of my devotion to Chicago baseball, I've always been a bit different from most.
I'm a fan of both teams. Some might see it as blasphemy, but it's just the way I was raised. My family has always had a healthy respect for both teams.
That doesn't mean I don't have a preference, though.
While it was painful to see the White Sox get eliminated from playoff contention last night, it might've been even tougher to watch the Cubs suffer their first 100-loss season since 1966. (It wasn't a good day to be a Chicago baseball fan.)
For better or worse, my heart has always been with the North Siders.
As a result, any Cubs icon instantly looks wrong in any other uniform they don during their career. You have no idea how glad I am that Ernie Banks never played for another franchise.
Not all Cubs mainstays have taken the path of "Mr. Cub", however.
While Kerry Wood certainly had his ups and downs during his time with the Cubbies, there's no denying that he became a major part of Cubs lore during his playing career.
For proof, consider the fact that the entire state of Illinois celebrated "Kerry Wood Day" on September 23rd of this year.
Although he spent a full two seasons away from Chicago during his career, he'll never look right in an Indians or Yankees uniform.
It's just not possible.
Still, one Cub managed to re-define the term "wrong" when it came to baseball cards.
That player is Ron Santo, of course.
Between his Hall of Fame playing and broadcasting career, Santo became quite possibly the most beloved Cub in the long history of the franchise.
He was the biggest Cubs fan on the face of the planet, no matter how well or how awful the franchise fared.
Because of all that, I don't think "wrong" is an appropriate enough term to describe Santo's 1975 Topps card.
In a controversial move, Santo was dealt to the South Siders before the start of the 1974 season. He'd spend the final year of his career there, posting a mediocre .221 average in 117 games.
Everything about this card is wrong. Since when did Ron Santo play second base? (A managerial experiment placed him at second for 39 games during the '74 season.)
In their own odd ways, all of these "wrong" cards are great.
I can't go through my Yankee binder without being fascinated by that Branca card. It's the same with Carlton and my Twins binder.
They're so weird that it's tough to look away. That in itself makes these cards both "wrong" and awesome at the same time.
It's an odd paradox.
Still, even with all that, there's something I have to do every time I look at that Santo card.
I need to make things right again.
Much, much better.