Monday, February 25, 2019

Into the Sunset: The NL West Team

While the end of my "Short Term Stops" theme was inevitable, I was still disappointed when it came to its natural conclusion.

Between the research and my love for unfamiliar uniforms, I very much enjoyed writing those posts. I wanted to get another theme like it started, but aside from a few small flickers no ideas came. It wasn't until recently that a fairly obvious concept hit me: All-Sunset Teams! Sunset cards are another former theme of mine that seemed worth reviving in roster form.

But there's a few more limitations involved with Sunsets than Short Term Stops. One, final cards are limited to guys who've already retired, obviously. Two, a quick flip through some of my binders showed that I don't really have enough sunset issues for each team to do 30 different posts (there'd be a whole lot of imperfect rosters if I did). So I met somewhere in the middle and decided to revive the Sunset theme with teams for each of baseball's six current divisions, starting with the NL West here tonight.

To refresh, the rosters will follow the same format as my Short Term Stops posts: three pitchers, catcher, first base, second base, shortstop, third base, three outfielders, and a DH if applicable -- so without further ado, it gives me great pleasure to bring you the NL West Sunset Team.


1966 Topps #100 Sandy Koufax

Sandy Koufax (Years Active: 1955-66) -- 1966 Dodgers, 41 games, 27-9, 1.73 ERA (sunset season)

Coincidentally, this series starts with what is probably the greatest sunset season in the history of baseball.

Sandy Koufax took home the Cy Young in 1966, and the numbers speak for themselves: 1.73 ERA, 317 strikeouts, 27 complete games (all league leaders). Little did anyone know, however, that it'd turn out to be his final season. Koufax retired at age 30 due to elbow tendinitis: the choice was either keep playing or likely lose an arm. Koufax chose the arm.

Deciding what Koufax's true sunset card is can get a bit tricky -- his decision to retire seemed to throw Topps HQ into chaos like everyone else. He has no standard card in '67 Topps. He's featured on a few league leaders, but I don't consider multi-player issues to be true finales. He's also shown on a special "Retired" card in the '67 Topps Venezuelan checklist, but I'll probably never own that one unless I come into a small fortune.

Me, I consider Koufax's 1966 Topps issue to be his true (if imperfect) sunset card, and thanks to my dad, who picked it up at a card shop long ago, I actually own it.

 1969 Topps #400 Don Drysdale

Don Drysdale (1956-69) -- 1969 Dodgers, 12 games, 5-4, 4.45 ERA

I'm excited to write these Sunset posts because they give me a chance to show my respect for dudes who spent their entire careers with one team.

As much as I like my Short Term Stops, I have the same amount of enthusiasm for those who made called one franchise home, and one franchise only. There's something to be said for guys like Don Drysdale whose cards are all housed within a single one of my team binders and nowhere else. Drysdale, like Koufax, was a career Dodger, though his last season was a bit more pedestrian than Sandy's. He pitched in just 12 games for the '69 Dodgers, collecting the final five of his 209 career wins in the process.

His sunset card from '69 Topps is a hero number (like Koufax), though sadly he didn't get a true farewell with full stats on the back (also like Koufax).

2010 Topps Heritage #96 Randy Johnson 

Randy Johnson (1988-2009) -- 2009 Giants, 22 games, 8-6, 4.88 ERA

But make no mistake about it: I do indeed enjoy talking about guys who finished their careers in odd uniforms.

Since I already covered a lot of said players in my Short Term Stops series, I'm gonna do my best not to have too many repeats here unless the players and uniforms in question are just so (un)memorable and so (un)noteworthy not to discuss. Case in point: Randy Johnson, who finished his career as a San Francisco Giant(?) in 2009, a stint so odd that I can't help but include here. Johnson did collect his 300th win with the Giants, but everything else about his stint there was...weird.

I've shown his 2010 Topps finale on the blog many times before -- it's one of the best sunset cards ever for my money -- but I thought I'd change things up a bit by showing my only other true farewell of the Big Unit, from 2010 Topps Heritage.


1959 Topps #550 Roy Campanella 

Roy Campanella (1948-57) -- 1957 Dodgers, 103 games, 13 HR, 62 RBI

My sunset theme becomes a bit more somber when it comes to the sad story of Roy Campanella.

You could argue the dude was the greatest catcher in big league history, or would've been had he been able to enjoy a full career. Three MVPs, eight All-Star Games, 242 homers...all in just ten big-league campaigns. And that's not even talking about the prime pre-integration years he spent in the Negro Leagues. After an off '57 season, though, Campy was sadly paralyzed in an car accident, this cutting short his legendary big-league career.

Despite the sight of the once-strapping Roy Campanella in a wheelchair, his '59 Topps "Symbol of Courage" finale gives me hope and joy every time I hold it in my hands -- for that, it remains one of the crown jewels of my sunset collection.

First Base

1981 Fleer #434 Willie McCovey 

Willie McCovey (1959-80) -- 1980 Giants, 48 games, 1 HR, 16 RBI

Choosing the first baseman for this roster was a tough call: the choices are absolutely stacked.

You've got Todd Helton, a single-team guy in an era where such a thing was a rarity. You've got Steve Garvey, a fan favorite who enjoyed considerable and longtime success for two different NL West franchises. And you've got Mark Grace, one of my favorite (and most underrated) players of my youth -- and a bit of the unfamiliar factor since it's still hard to think of him as a Diamondback.

But I went with the late Willie McCovey for the sheer reason that, while he didn't spend his whole career in San Francisco, he's instantly identifiable in my mind as a Giant, perhaps more so than anyone who ever played for the Giants. And also his sunset situation is strange. McCovey didn't exactly go out with a bang -- just one homer in 48 games in 1980 -- but still it's somewhat odd that Topps and Donruss left him out of their '81 checklists.

In the end, it was Fleer, and only Fleer, who gave "Stretch" the true ride into the sunset he deserved.

Second Base

2010 Topps "Cards Your Mom Threw Out" #CMT-121 Jackie Robinson 

Jackie Robinson (1947-1956) -- 1956 Dodgers, 117 games, 10 HR, 43 RBI

Another position, another lifelong Dodger: Jackie Robinson mans second base on this already star-studded roster.

I have nothing to say that hasn't already been said about Jackie. He changed baseball more than any other player in the game's history. His sunset story is an interesting one, in that he technically ended his career as a Giant. The Dodgers traded him to San Francisco after the '56 season, but Robinson refused to report and retired, thus voiding the swap.

Really the only ding against Robinson's 1956 Topps museum piece (other than the fact that I don't yet own a real copy) is that it's not a true finale -- it doesn't have career stats and he wasn't featured in the '57 checklist, but still you can't say Jackie didn't go out with a bang with that masterpiece from '56 Topps.


1958 Topps #375 Pee Wee Reese 

Pee Wee Reese (1940-42, 1946-58) -- 1958 Dodgers, 59 games, 4 HR, 17 RBI

I don't think I ever realized how many Dodger legends wound up being career Dodgers.

Koufax. Drysdale. Campanella. Robinson. And now Pee Wee Reese. All 16 years of Reese's HOF career (truncated by three prime seasons lost due to WWII) were spent with the Dodgers. Oddly, Pee Wee's final season was the Dodgers' inaugural one in Los Angeles. The 40-year-old shortstop played in just 59 games in 1958, hitting just .224 with four homers before calling it quits.

As I've shown so far, Topps didn't grant many true sunsets in their olden days, Pee Wee Reese included -- though his by-default '58 Topps finale has long been a favorite of mine (not to mention one of the more affordable vintage sunset cards of a HOFer!).

Third Base

2015 Stadium Club #20 Eric Chavez 

Eric Chavez (1998-2014) -- 2014 Diamondbacks, 44 games, 3 HR, 8 RBI

These sunset posts will follow the rules of an All-Star team, in that one player from each big-league club must be represented on every roster.

The Diamondbacks, barely two decades old, operate at an obvious disadvantage compared with clubs like the Dodgers and Giants who've been around for what seems like forever. But I don't think it's much of a stretch putting Eric Chavez on this roster, a star (but also oddly injury-prone) third baseman of my youth. After a handful of big years with the A's, Chavez closed out his career with a couple unfamiliar seasons in Arizona, hitting the final three of his 260 career homers in his 2014 farewell.

And hey, he got something greats like Koufax and Robinson were never lucky enough to receive -- a true sunset card, thanks to 2015 Stadium Club.


1983 ASA Duke Snider Story #12 Duke Snider 

Duke Snider (1947-1964) -- 1964 Giants, 91 games, 4 HR, 17 RBI

As I mentioned, I don't want to include too many Short Term Stop/Sunset crossovers in these posts, but I made room for Duke since I didn't own this card -- the only one I've ever seen of him as a Giant -- when I wrote my Short Term Stop Giants post.

Unfamiliar doesn't even begin to describe Duke's tenure in San Francisco, especially considering he spent the vast majority of his HOF career with the rival Dodgers. Nothing about Snider's lone season as a Giant was memorable: he hit .210 with just four homers in 91 games there before retiring.

Very few of the game's greats enjoyed a grand, majestic end to their hallowed careers, and Duke Snider is a prime example of that.

1993 Upper Deck #706 Dale Murphy 

Dale Murphy (1976-1993) -- 1993 Rockies, 26 games, 0 HR, 7 RBI

See also: Dale Murphy, another legendary Short Term Stop/Sunset combo that was just too great not to include on this roster.

I've covered Murph's woeful career-ending stint with the Rockies on this blog many times before, but I'll never tire of it. Murphy hit just .143 with exactly zero homers in 26 games with the expansion Rockies in 1993 before taking the hint and calling it quits. It's a stint made even more incredible considering Murphy was an active player the previous time baseball had expanded nearly two decades earlier with the Mariners and Blue Jays in 1977.

It can be painful watching a former legend limp into the sunset, but for better or worse, it makes for great blog copy.

2002 UD Piece of History #82 Tony Gwynn

Tony Gwynn (1982-2001) -- 2001 Padres, 71 games, 1 HR, 17 RBI

But after two forgettable Short Term Stops comes a single-team legend with the late Tony Gwynn.

Mr. Padre was, of course, a career Padre. So many of his stats seem superhuman: .338 career average, 15-time All-Star, and perhaps most incredible, only 434 strikeouts in 20 big-league seasons. TOTAL. Hobbled by injuries later in his career, however, Gwynn appeared in only 71 games for the 2001 Padres, though that didn't stop him from hitting .324 in his abbreviated sunset campaign. Card-wise, he didn't pick a great year to retire, as not a lot of the designs bestowed on us in 2002 are all that memorable nowadays (this frenzied Piece of History card is one of his few true sunset issues).

Still, there really isn't such a thing as a bad baseball card of Tony Gwynn -- it just doesn't exist, and that goes doubly so for the few who gave him that true, glorious ride into the sunset.

That just about does it for this inaugural sunset squad -- thanks for tuning in!


Adam said...

Nick ... this was fabulous! I'm really looking forward to the other editions of this.

Nick Vossbrink said...

Man, the Giants MO of signing old guys for sunsets and letting their life-long players sunset elsewhere is one of those things they've done consistently for decades. I guess the telling stat is that there are only four guys who have played more than 10 years in MLB and only played for San Francisco.

Adam Kaningher said...

Good evolution of the Short Term Stops theme. Also appreciate you starting with the NL West! It always ends up last for some reason.

Johnnys Trading Spot said...

Cheers to a new theme. Looking forward to seeing more of this one.

kirk said...

that was a neat post. that's a great koufax card

acrackedbat said...

Murphy as a Rockie - so very weird. Campy is a favorite in my collection too. Each time I enjoy his cards, I find myself wondering 'what if'.

shoeboxlegends said...

Killer read Nick! I'm really looking forward to the remaining posts in this series, great work as always.

Mike said...

Glad you found a format to work with on this!..excellent stuff!

Fuji said...

Another great series I look forward to reading. The whole time I was hoping to see Gwynn... but along the way, guys like Campy, Jackie, and Chavez brought a smile to my face. Totally forgot that Chavez was in Arizona at the end of his career and had no clue that Murph was ever a Rockie.

Unknown said...

Gywnn, while overweight and hobbled, could still hit like crazy.