Thursday, September 7, 2017
The man had style
In the process of wrapping up the selections for the Greatest 100 Cards of the 1970s countdown, I've come across cards that I've forgotten about or am looking at in a new way after becoming so immersed in this hobby.
One of the last things I did in my research was look through the Hostess cards from the '70s. While they are among my favorite oddballs and very much a hoot, most of them are regurgitated/rejected Topps photos and very few Hostess cards are great enough to make the final 100. There might be 1 or 2 on the list.
This George Hendrick Hostess card from 1979 lies just outside the top 100 and it is there solely because Hendrick may be the only player to wear a '70s track suit on his baseball card.
Hendrick is a unique individual when it comes to baseball cards. And because of this, he is the man that resurrects my "I'm Bad-Ass And You're Not" feature after a long period of inactivity.
Hendrick -- although not really overlooked among fans of 1970s and 1980s baseball -- is definitely overlooked among whoever the decision makers are in deciding who appears on baseball cards. Now that featuring retired players is commonplace in a variety of sets, the same people pop up over and over. And even when they don't, the secondary stars featured are rarely from my era.
Recent years of Stadium Club are a good example. There are cards of Rondell White and Bobby Abreu yet we're skipping right over Hendrick and Garry Maddox and Lance Parrish. No fair showing '90s and early '00s players when you didn't even finish the '70s and '80s!
Hendrick was a fine player throughout the '70s and '80s. He consistently led the Cardinals in home runs during the early '80s. He appeared in three World Series. He drove in the go-ahead run with an opposite-field single in Game 7 of the 1982 World Series.
Yet he was criticized for his lackadaisical approach to the game, especially early in his career, and mischaracterized because he didn't talk to the press. Hendrick was actually a soft-spoken and jovial guy who enjoyed the game.
The man had style, too, and it came out on his baseball cards.
That wasn't easy to do in the '70s. Sure, the baseball teams wore crazy uniforms during that decade and Hendrick played for the craziest -- green-and-gold Oakland, blood-clot Cleveland, chocolate-and-mustard San Diego and baby blue St. Louis -- but it took some doing to get your personality to come out on a card in the '70s. This wasn't Upper Deck in the '90s.
Hendrick did that. By wearing a track suit.
And by wearing a visor. Who else wore a visor on a baseball card? Was that a team-issue visor? Did Hendrick craft it himself and add the Indians logo?
Did he have a blue one and a white one made? And if these were available to every player, why wasn't anyone else wearing them?
I have a general answer for that: Hendrick had more style than everyone else.
Hendrick gets a lot of flak now, not because of those earlier stereotypes -- the "Silent George" and "Captain Easy" nicknames -- but because he wore his uniform pants low, covering most of his stirrups.
He's considered the pioneer of what became the dominant pant leg fashion for ballplayers 20 years later. And those who love stirrups and remember the days of classic baseball player dress, which included a pair of wholly visible stirrups, are offended by this trend.
I was, too. Every baseball player I grew up with wore their stirrups so you could see them. As a youngster, it was the most mysterious part of being a ballplayer to me. "How did they get their socks to look like that?"
But I don't begrudge Hendrick or his followers now. Fashion is subjective. Hendrick actually looked good with low pant legs. He was 6-foot-5. He looked good in everything. Let him wear them that way. It's distinctive. It's stylish.
This card gives you a great look at how tall Hendrick is. It also shows something for which '80s collectors knew him for: the helmet-hat combo. What a long-ago blogger called the "subhelmet-hat alliance."
There is a much better look at it.
Hell, let's close out his career with the double hat AND the low pant leg.
So you've got the subhat-helmet, the low pant leg and the visor.
Sure. Of course, there was the hair. There was always the hair in the early 1980s. (The smile is contagious, George). Hendrick also seemed to wear baseball jackets more than just about anyone.
And there's this. Who else can you think of who wore their pillbox cap backward? Who? Who, Ken Griffey Jr.? Who?
That's right, I'm just coming up with George Hendrick.
Hendrick was wearing his hat backward long before Upper Deck came along. That copyright says 1984.
Don't think that I didn't notice all of this as I was growing up and collecting.
Even when Hendrick wasn't presenting any particular fashion statement, he produced some of the smoothest cards I ever saw. This card is one of my most favorite from the 1980 set, and was from the moment I pulled it.
Some people just can't take a bad baseball card. George Hendrick was one of them.
Stickers? OK, maybe stickers weren't Hendrick's thing.
Except when they were.
It was a rocky start for Mr. Style. This is Hendrick's rookie card and it is so strange that people have suspected it is a colorized black-and-white photo. Hendrick appears to exist in a dream state.
But he recovered quickly the very next year. Isn't this the way you want to see someone pretending to swing a bat? The act is so comical, so amusingly fake. Why behave like it's perfectly normal? Hendrick isn't. Because he's too bad-ass to pretend.
Even Hendrick's straight-arrow cards are great. I like this one in particular because the border colors match the Indians uniforms.
And it looks strikingly similar to the card issued the year prior.
This card doesn't get a lot of attention. It's from the 1976 SSPC set. In the set, it is situated between two Indians teammates that have received much more attention in the years since -- John Lowenstein and Oscar Gamble.
I prefer to think of Hendrick's cool as understated and underappreciated, much as Hendrick was.
Card companies didn't know quite what to do with him. Here is Hendrick at his new position of first base (he replaced Keith Hernandez after Hernandez was shipped to the Mets). Yet he's still listed as an outfielder on his 1984 Donruss card.
And then there is the visor again.
When Hendrick was traded to the Padres, O-Pee-Chee acted to get Hendrick airbrushed into a Padres uniform. But that visor? What could they do with that visor?
I don't think it was thought out that well.
Also an interesting take by Hostess.
Hendrick simply mystified the card companies just like he mystified the media and the fans.
But I'll say again, he was a solid hitter, accumulating close to 2,000 hits. His fielding progressed as he got older and his arm was always great. Topps gave Hendrick card numbers ending in "0" or "5" throughout his career.
Yet, Hendrick hasn't appeared in any set with retro players since the Archives sets of 2001 and 2002.
It's time that one of the most stylish players from the '70s and '80s -- a player so stylish that he could not be contained during a time when that stuff often was contained -- is recognized, in Stadium Club or Archives or wherever retired players are found.
Yeah, I know, retired players need to sign deals and all that.
If you can't get Hendrick, get a bunch of other great players from the '70s or '80s that haven't been on new cardboard in ages. If you don't know who they are, you know where to get ahold of me.
I can get you a list.
It's a long one.