Wednesday, March 12, 2014
Do I know you?
Every ballplayer was a bright-eyed rookie at one point.
Although the vast majority of guys don't stick around in the bigs for very long, a select few enjoy long-term success at baseball's highest level.
With today's salaries, most players are probably set for life after a few years in the majors. A long, star-studded career will take care of their grandchildren's grandchildren.
Between all that fame and fortune, it's easy to get sidetracked. Just look at guys like Alex Rodriguez or Sammy Sosa.
Ernie Banks was an untested, unproven rookie once. Even during his early years, the guy seemed to have that "Let's Play Two!" attitude that would later come to define his career.
Not to mention that million-dollar smile.
Did that translate to the rest of his time in the majors?
You bet it did.
Despite the fact that his career was well past its peak, it's apparent that Banks still had that happy-go-lucky attitude during his later years.
Just take a look at his final Topps card for proof.
Perhaps what strikes me most is that "Mr. Cub" looked almost exactly the same. He never really tinkered with any flashy mustaches or wild hairdos during his career.
That's more than I can say about a lot of other guys.
It's hard to imagine Thurman Munson without his famous 'stache.
Yet, that's exactly what we see on his 1970 Topps rookie card. A clean-shaven Munson.
I hardly recognize him.
Of course, Thurman Munson was pretty much the first player to break the strict facial hair rule of the hallowed Yankees.
By the time his career came to a tragic end, he was sporting bushy hair and a memorable 'stache.
He was certainly a far cry away from his 1970 rookie self.
One of the more astounding rookie-to-star transformations in today's game has to belong to Mr. Josh Reddick.
He's quickly become an icon of this blog, largely thanks to the fact that he shares a birthday with yours truly. On top of that, though, his mean facial hair has certainly grown on me.
It's gotten to the point where his rookie cards look just plain wrong to me. With all context aside, I honestly wouldn't know who that young Red Sox rookie is on the left.
I think the "caveman" look suits him a lot better.
I always get a kick out of digging through my Mitch Williams rookies.
He looks like he's about twelve years old on some of his earlier issues. It's hard to believe that he'd eventually turn into a mulleted (is that a word?) and tough-as-nails Phillies closer later in his career.
He was far from becoming the "Wild Thing" back in 1986.
Here's a particularly interesting "before and after" comparison.
During his early days, Bill Lee looked a lot like the hundreds of other nameless rookies that made their debuts in the bigs. As the years went on, though, he certainly separated himself from the pack.
Over time, Bill Lee became "Spaceman". His vibrant personality made him a household name in Boston, although he'd eventually be shown the door after clashes with manager Bob Zimmer. (Lee was the one who labeled Zimmer as "The Gerbil".)
By 1980, he was pitching for the Expos. Maybe it's just me, but he looks like a completely different person than the one shown on his first card.
I'm still not convinced that Topps didn't actually feature another player on Lee's 1970 rookie.
It's hard to imagine Nolan Ryan as a bright-eyed rookie.
If you bunted on "The Ryan Express", chances are you'd be brushed back the next time you stepped up to the plate. It was part of the dominant personality that would make him one of the best pitchers in baseball history.
Still, I can't see a hint of competitiveness in that early shot of Ryan as a Met. He made his debut in 1966, and I'm pretty sure that's the earliest shot I've seen of him in a big league uniform.
Then again, I guess it's hard to blame Ryan for looking a lot different on his later cards.
The guy did play 27 years in the majors.
I could write a whole other post comparing cards of future big league managers during their playing days.
The fact that Bobby Cox once played in the majors sometimes gets lost to history. He played in two seasons with the Yankees, earning a coveted Rookie Cup on what would be his only Topps card in 1969.
Of course, he'd go on to enjoy a Hall of Fame managerial career with the Braves and Blue Jays.
This is what he looked like 46 years after his lone Topps card hit the market.
Pretty much unrecognizable.
Then again, I guess you can't blame guys for aging.