Certain players just never receive their due in this game.
I could probably rattle off quite a few names of the sort.
Gil Hodges comes to mind. Dave Concepcion is another. Frank Howard, too. The list just goes on and on.
For my money, though, I think the most "unsung hero" of all has to be Jim Kaat.
To tell you the truth, I'm not sure how or why I became such a big fan of his. For whatever reason, I've been a huge Kaat supporter and collector for as long as I can remember.
Because of that, I've always felt that he deserves a plaque in Cooperstown.
True, he only made three All-Star teams in his 25-year career. And, no, he never won a Cy Young or anything.
But I think 285 career wins and sixteen Gold Glove awards warrants a spot in the Hall of Fame.
Then again, that's just one fan's opinion.
The "unsung hero" quality of Mr. Kaat seems to extend into the world of cardboard as well. I almost never see him get any airplay around the blogosphere.
At the very least, I think his '73 Topps issue deserves its time in the spotlight. As far as I know, it was the very first card to feature an in-action "pitcher at the plate" photo.
As you can see, mine is a tad miscut. But, in the end, I think that makes it a bit more special, in a funny way.
It's definitely one of the more "iconic" cards in my collection.
After stints with the Senators, Twins, White Sox, Phillies, and Yankees, Kaat would finish his career as a St. Louis Cardinal in 1983.
Which is where we pick up this "sunset" countdown.
Although he'd pitch in 24 games out of the bullpen for the Cards in '83, Kaat was virtually ignored by the cardboard industry the following year.
As a result, none of his "sunset" issues from '83 provide complete career stats on the back.
I guess I can't be too mad at the likes of Fleer, Topps, and Donruss for not including him in their '84 checklists, though.
After all, 1983 was a pretty darn good year for the hobby. It assured Kaat a solid farewell from the world of cardboard.
Even though Donruss's 1983 design was almost an exact replica of their '82 release, I still have a soft spot for it.
Putting yellow bars of '84 aside, I think the 1982/83 bat-ball and bat-glove "combos" account for the most memorable features in Donruss history.
Even a shadowed and somewhat ghastly shot of Mr. Kaat still has a little charm when featured on such a fine design.
A few days ago, I prefaced a post by alluding to a few of the more "legendary" sets in Topps history.
To me, the list is comprised of at least four different designs.
1956, 1965, 1975, and 1987.
Those seem to be four of the most universally appreciated Topps sets in the collecting world.
From what I've read, though, I may have to consider adding 1983 to the fold. I've heard almost nothing but praise for the design during my time here.
The set-up does indeed make for some nice cardboard. Topps managed to squeeze two different photos of Kaat into this one without either of them seeming intrusive in any way.
The in-action/mugshot combo is one of the best innovations in cardboard history. Not to mention the team-appropriate colored borders.
Plus, any card that features those awesome powder-blue '80s Cards uniforms is okay in my book.
Although Topps definitely had the best design in '83, it still takes second billing when it comes to this "sunset" countdown.
Because Fleer managed to one-up them with the photo selection.
Although the muted borders are fairly drab, Fleer easily emerges as the king when it comes to "sunset" issues of Mr. Kaat.
As I've mentioned a few times before, I absolutely love anything from the ever-rare "interview" category. Here, Kaat is seen chatting with a reporter during ESPN's early days.
And when you mix a "sunset" issue and an interview shot, well, that has the makings of one really special piece of cardboard.
Thankfully, it wasn't the last time Fleer would do so.
Judging from the trio of cards I've showcased, I think it's fair to say that Jim Kaat received a terrific send-off from the hobby.
Given his accomplishments, though, he most certainly deserved it. Even if he is still an "unsung hero" of the game.
So, here's to you, Jim Kaat.
Here's your day in the sun.
Although I don't usually do this, I'd like to add a brief addendum to this evening's "sunset" post.
Yesterday, I was extremely saddened to hear of the passing of both Earl Weaver and Stan Musial.
The passing of anyone associated with the great game of baseball hits me pretty hard. Much less the unfortunate loss of two Hall of Famers on the same day.
Even though I can't say I had the privilege to see either of them during their "glory days", they've both had an enormous amount of impact on how I've come to view the game over the years.
So, in taking a page from another blogger, I've composed special "tribute pages" for both Weaver and Musial, ones that contain my nine favorite cards of the late Cooperstown inductees.
It's my little way of sending them "into the sunset", I guess.
In a much deeper way, though.
Earl Weaver is one of the few managers I actively collect.
I had the good fortune to pluck his '71 and '72 issues of his from a couple of 12/$1 boxes at a show last year. And, as far as managerial cards go, that 1987 issue is indeed his "sunset" card.
However, the center trio of cardboard is what makes this page so fitting.
Weaver's 1983 Topps card on the left shows that "mad scientist" quality of his. His mind managed to single-handedly change the game of baseball.
The Sports Illustrated "Greats" card in the center features his ever-famous temper, one that caused his ejection from 94 different games over the course of his career. I'd have to believe that the shot featured on that one served as a precursor to one of those memorable heave-hos.
Finally, the SI "Magazine Cover" insert on the right shows perhaps the most important quality of Earl Weaver.
After all was said and done, he was a man who genuinely loved the game of baseball.
Although my Cardinals binder is home to quite a few heroes of the game, I'd have to say that Mr. Musial makes up the unquestioned "heart" of it.
After all, the guy was known as Stan "The Man". How could he not be the center of it all?
Even though I've long since left the memorabilia market, I'm still proud to say that I own a jersey card of his. It set me back a few pretty pennies at the time, but it'll always, always be worth it.
On top of that, I had the good fortune to pick up a copy of his '61 Topps card at a show a few months ago.
Even though I bought over 700 cards that day, the real "winner" of the show was never in much doubt.
It was Stan "The Man" Musial.
I feel lucky to own such a terrific piece of baseball history. It is, and will always be, one of the best parts of my collection.
Rest in peace, Mr. Musial and Mr. Weaver.
You will be missed.