Sunday, June 13, 2010

Since I don't have a Strasburg card ...

... I'll show Karl Spooner, the 1954 version of Stephen Strasburg.

This is Spooner's 1956 card. It is the final card issued during his career. Spooner's major league career lasted two years, 1954 and 1955.

If you have been following along with Strasburg the past week, then you have at least heard Spooner's name mentioned. Strasburg came within a strikeout of matching Spooner's record 15 strikeouts in a major league debut.

Spooner struck out 15 Giants on Sept. 22, 1954, a 3-0 victory for the Dodgers. He also hit a double. In his second game, on Sept. 26, 1954, he struck out 12 Pirates in a 1-0 Brooklyn win.

So, that's 27 strikeouts and two victories in two major league starts. It sounds quite Strasburgian. In fact, it's even more impressive.

There you see Spooner's highlights in cartoon form on the back of his '56 card.

Unfortunately, that card back sums up ALL of his career highlights. "King Karl" would suffer an injury in spring training of 1955 (some say he didn't properly warm up, some say off-season knee surgery affected is pitching delivery). He managed to pitch 29 games that year, as you can see by his stats above, going 8-6 with 78 strikeouts.

Spooner pitched well in relief in Game 2 of the 1955 World Series against the Yankees. But in Game 6 he was asked to start and didn't make it out of the first inning as the Yankees scored five runs.

That was Spooner's final major league appearance. He had a sore arm the following spring and never pitched in the majors again.

I have a little extra interest in Spooner, not just because he was a Brooklyn Dodger, but because he was born in Oriskany Falls, N.Y., which is about 2 or 3 hours from me. He also resided in Hornell, N.Y. I've stopped there to eat a time or two. Upstate New York major leaguers aren't particularly plentiful.

If Spooner was pitching in 2010, he would be trending on Twitter. People would be broadcasting his every move on the mound, like they do with Strasburg. Spooner was expected to be a genuine star pitcher, on the level of a Sandy Koufax.

But pitchers are among the most delicate professional athletes on earth. There is zero guarantee that Strasburg will amount to anything beyond these past two starts. Spooner's first two games were complete games. Strasburg didn't even pitch 14 innings combined in his two games. Baseball is a lot more careful with phenoms today.

Right now, Strasburg is merely Karl Spooner, albeit with better medical knowledge surrounding him.

Watching Strasburg is a heck of a lot of fun, and I'm hoping he enjoys quite a bit more success than Spooner, despite my doubts. Card companies are, too. On the day of Strasburg's major league debut, I bought a box of 2010 Allen & Ginter, a set that will include Strasburg. It was $84.99. That same box at Atlanta Sports Cards is now $104.99.

So, given all that: if you happen to have a Strasburg card in your possession, I absolutely, whole-heartedly, 100 percent advise you to:

Sell it. Now.


  1. Damn Owl! You always beat me to the punch! I have been watching the Sens v Tribe game on the tube. It took me an hour to find my '54 Spooner card and then the last hour to get the post half written. I keep on leaving to read the other blogs... You did much better with it than I would have, so I concede the post to you. Great job!
    ps. Are you watching it on TBS? Did you hear the announcer reference the great Dodgers pitching phenom Fernando Vina???

  2. Thanks, CT.

    Yup, watching TBS and heard the Vina comment. TBS announcers are so painful.

  3. I'm taking your advice there, Owl. I'm just scared to see the auction end at $.99!!

  4. For all the complaining about pitch counts etc. with the amount of time and $$$ the Nats and his agents/handlers have invested in Strasburg they will do their best to make sure that injury/overuse will not be an issue in the infancy of his career. beyond that we don't know - but he has had a fun first wk even if it is for a Phils division rival.

  5. I like the way you mentioned that Spooner was expected to be a Sandy Koufax type of pitcher. It's a good thing for the Dodgers they actually had Sand Koufax coming up at the time as well. It's also worth mentioning that even Koufax struggled for about 5-6 seasons before he grew into one of the greatest pitchers ever.

    In 1954, Bums fans said "We should've gotten Spooner sooner" because the Giants won that year's pennant. Today, he's a reminder of what can happen to a "can't miss" prospect like Strasburg if the fickle finger of fate should intervene.

  6. I love the cartoons on the back of these old cards. "the Minor League Hitters Assoc." cartoon is my favorite.

  7. Mark Prior. Mark Prior. Mark Prior. Did I mention Mark Prior?
    (I may be bitter because I didn't pull any Strasburgs from my few packs of Bowman).