Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Into the Sunset: The AL Central Team

It's a little hard to believe that my blog basically ran on theme posts way back in the day.

I guess my themes are still active, at least in the technical sense of the word -- it's been about eight months since my last Sunset post, and that last write-up way back in June itself ended a nearly year-long hiatus. Theme posts were once the lifeblood of this blog, but they've devolved into more of a rare delicacy now.

But there's a part of my blogging heart that still loves theme posts, and enjoys putting them out there -- especially these Sunset squads, since I'm always up for discussing overlooked cardboard finales. Today's roster features the best farewells from the AL Central, a division that's honestly been kinda dull in recent history. But I think it has a chance to erupt into one of the more exciting groups in baseball, mostly because I think the White Sox are gonna be a lot of fun to watch very soon.

But I still don't think it'll be half as fun as the Central's sunset team turned out to be.


1956 Topps #200 Bob Feller

Bob Feller -- 1956 Indians, 19 games, 0-4, 4.97 ERA (sunset season)

We begin with one of the crowning jewels of my sunset collection -- a 1956 Topps Bob Feller!

If the mediocre stat line is any indication, Rapid Robert was definitely on the downslope of his HOF career by the time this card came out. He posted the highest single-season ERA of his life and failed to so much as win a single game. It wasn't the prolific farewell he deserved.

Still, you'd never know any of that from the beauty of his sunset card -- this is '56 Topps at its finest, even giving aging superstars like Bob Feller a proper ride into the night.

1981 Fleer #462 Mark Fidrych

Mark Fidrych -- 1980 Tigers, 9 games, 2-3, 5.68 ERA

Sometimes sunset cards are sad.

Though he didn't know it yet, Mark Fidrych had already pitched his final big-league game by the time this card came out. It's a bit painful to know that "The Bird" was only 27 years old here -- he's got a five o'clock shadow and just looks generally tired, nothing like the youthful phenomenon he'd been just a few seasons before.

Proof that sunset cards aren't always the fond farewells we imagine them to be.

Steve Carlton -- 1988 Twins, 4 games, 0-1, 16.76 ERA

Am I the only one who thinks Steve Carlton looks like he's 84 years old here?

The back tells me Lefty was only 43 in 1988, but I don't really believe that -- kinda like the way I don't really believe he ever played for the Twins.


2018 Topps #231 Joe Mauer

Joe Mauer -- 2018 Twins, 127 games, .282 AVG, 6 HR, 48 RBI

While Joe Mauer didn't get any true sunset cards with full stats on the back in 2019, he's part of a dying breed in today's game -- he spent his entire career with one team, and one team only.

Catching is a tough enough job to begin with, which makes me even more fascinated by guys like Mauer who can actually hit, too -- I can barely imagine just being able to walk after wearing the tools of ignorance day after day, much less trying to hit 98-MPH fastballs.

First Base

2015 Stadium Club #112 Paul Konerko

Paul Konerko -- 2014 White Sox, 81 games, .207 AVG, 5 HR, 22 RBI

Paul Konerko has always been special to me because his career pretty much exactly aligned with my coming of age as a baseball fan.

Konerko broke into the bigs in 1997 -- I was five years old at the time, and just starting to become a baseball fan. He was traded to the White Sox two years later, right around when I started picking teams and players to root for. And the next 16 years on the South Side of Chicago solidified him as a fan favorite you couldn't help but respect, a guy who always seemed to be there at first base every time I turned on a Sox game when I was growing up.

I suppose it all had to end sometime, but few player's goodbyes hit me more than Paul Konerko's -- even though, in true White Sox fashion, his final season was mostly overlooked by some guy named Derek Jeter who decided to retire that same year.

Second Base

1996 Score #487 Lou Whitaker

Lou Whitaker -- 1995 Tigers, 84 games, .293 AVG, 14 HR, 44 RBI

I've never gone through and counted, but Lou Whitaker seems to have more double play cards than any other guy in my collection.

I guess it only make sense, then, that he'd be turning two on one of his sunset cards, looking as spry and agile as ever -- a fitting final tribute to a rare talent up the middle.

(Also, please put him in the HOF already!)


1997 Collector's Choice #105 Alan Trammell

Alan Trammell -- 1996 Tigers, 66 games, .233 AVG, 1 HR, 16 RBI

I don't think we'll ever see a double-play combo like Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell again -- two immensely talented infielders who spent their entire careers with the same team, at almost the exact same time.

As a card collector and baseball fan, it only seemed right to reunite them on this roster -- though Trammell gets a few extra points for that excellent "Final Tribute" banner from Collector's Choice that I so dearly miss.

Third Base

1994 Topps #180 George Brett

George Brett -- 1993 Royals, 145 games, 19 HR, 75 RBI

I've heard people say this is a bad baseball card, and not the final tribute a legend like George Brett deserved.

All I'd like to know is if they'd be willing to pass whatever they've been smoking.


1975 Topps #4 Al Kaline HL

Al Kaline -- 1974 Tigers, 147 games, .262 AVG, 13 HR, 64 RBI

Al Kaline's sunset saga is still incredibly strange to me -- Topps included him in the "Highlights" portion of their 1975 checklist, but for some reason neglected to give him a card in the regular base set.

It's kind of a strange way to go out, but to me this qualifies as a true sunset card, even if it doesn't feature a single stat line on the back.

1997 Upper Deck #415 Kirby Puckett

Kirby Puckett -- 1995 Twins, 137 games, .314 AVG, 23 HR, 99 RBI

Another strange sunset tale here -- Kirby Puckett actually received his final baseball cards two years after he'd played his last game.

Puckett retired due to vision loss in 1996, and his farewell came so suddenly that a few brands chose to dip into the following year's cards to grant him proper finales -- Upper Deck provided a particularly memorable final tribute in their '97 set, a card that tugs on the heart-strings given how Puckett's career (and life) came to an end far too soon.

2008 Upper Deck #129 Kenny Lofton

Kenny Lofton -- 2007 Rangers/Indians, 136 games, .296 AVG, 7 HR, 38 RBI 

There must've been something about Cleveland for Kenny Lofton -- he played there three different times in his career, including his final season in 2007, coming back to his adopted home via a trade with the Rangers earlier in the year.

It was a proper goodbye to one of my all-time favorite players -- and if this excellent sunset card is any indication, he remained the cool dude I know and love right up until the end.

Designated Hitter

1976 SSPC #525 Frank Robinson

Frank Robinson -- 1976 Indians, 36 games, .224 AVG, 3 HR, 10 RBI

I managed to restrain myself from mentioning Harmon Killebrew on the Royals! for the 732nd time in this blog's history and actually give the DH spot on this roster to the more deserving (and historic) nominee with Frank Robinson here.

Robinson, of course, became the first black manager in baseball history when he took over the reigns as Cleveland's player-manager in 1975. General day-to-day concerns aside, I always thought the weirdest thing about being a player-manager would be when the time came for him to insert himself into a game. I always wondered how those decisions went down. 

Robinson did that a handful of times during his two years as the Indians' player-manager, and had a fair amount of success doing it -- he even homered in his first at-bat with the club. Safe to say the game of baseball wouldn't be the same today without Frank Robinson's historic sunset stint in Cleveland.

That's it for this sunset team -- thanks for tuning in, and let's hope it doesn't take me eight more months for me to do another one of these.


Swing And A Pop-up said...

I've always liked that '94 Brett Topps Card.

gcrl said...

The kaline card is a conundrum. Topps did the same for brooks robinson in 1978 and only gave vlad a checklist in 2012 flagship.

Mike said...

The Kaline was a big "get" in my youth.. the Brett card is great and the Bird card is indeed a melancholy sight,I was so sure he'd rebound..

friend11 said...

Sunset cards are still my favorite mini collection. Some day the value will rise. I've been looking for the Kaline 1975 SSPC for you.

hiflew said...

I mentioned on Fuji's blog just the other day that I thought the 94 George Brett was the best sunset card of all time followed closely by the 2014 Todd Helton and the 2015 Paul Konerko (I prefer Topps to SC, but both are nice). That Puckett is great too though.

Johnnys Trading Spot said...

that Lofton card is great.

Jeremya1um said...

That ‘94 Topps Brett is one of the better cards in an underrated 1994 Topps set.
Thanks for doing one of these again.

Fuji said...

The Brett has to be in the Top 5 greatest sunset cards... and yeah... Carlton looks old and tired in that photo. I actually thing that card is sadder than the Fidrych.

Brian said...

I wonder if the final design of 1994 Topps was influenced by the Brett photo- the scoreboard mirrors the border! The sunset post are always a treat!

Trevor P said...

I love the Brett, too. And I agree that prefer the flagship Konerko sunset.

CinciCuse Bill said...

Great post with lots of great cards. I’m impressed that they’re all AL Central players!

Adam Kaningher said...

I'll also vote for 1994 Topps George Brett. What a great card!