I'm not a Mets fan or a Cardinals fan. I'm not much for having favorites on teams that aren't the Dodgers either.
But I can make a case for admiring Tom Seaver and Lou Brock during their careers. Not only were they giants of baseball during the very first years that I collected cards but I still own a couple of meaningful memorabilia items for each recently departed player and that is very rare for me for anyone who is not a Dodger player.
This is the first baseball glove I ever owned. It's a Tom Seaver model. Long ago, it used to feature Tom Seaver's signature in the palm, and when I received it, I immediately changed my favorite team to the Mets and my favorite player to Tom Seaver. That lasted all of one day before I knocked some sense into myself.
I received this glove for my birthday and, yes, it was the Bicentennial that year, how can you tell? Every last item selling in stores in 1976 was red, white and blue (take it from me, the red, white and blue ice cream made at that time was awful). My grandfather, the second husband of my grandmother and someone I've mentioned once before, bought this for me. He always found unusually appropriate and often educational gifts for his new grandkids and I'd place this glove in that category as well.
I didn't care that it was not a typically brown-horsehide glove and for years it was a badge of pride for me on the ballfield. I may have wanted to join the crowd in many other areas, but that glove??? It was left-handed, just like me, it was red, white and blue, and it was good enough for Tom Seaver.
This is the first baseball biography book I ever read. I'm not exactly sure who gave it to me, but it's possible my grandfather did, too. He arrived at just the right time, exactly when I was getting into baseball and baseball cards.
The Bill Gutman baseball books covered four players at a time and were all titled by the four players' last names. (When I showed this book on Twitter yesterday as everyone mourned Lou Brock, there were a handful of typicals who had to say, "THAT'S TONY OLIVA! THAT'S NOT ROD CAREW! THAT'S OLIVA! Yeah, OK, Twins fan. It's not Carew. I didn't make the book. And, please, stay on topic).
The image above is actually the back cover of the book.
This is the front. And this is how the biographies appear in the book. First Munson, then Garvey, then Brock, then Carew.
This book was published in 1976, I'm surprised there's no red, white and blue all over it. It left as big an impression as my first glove did. To this day I remember stories from this book about Garvey (his dad drove a bus for the Dodgers), Brock (him getting the best of Jerry Grote) and Carew (he was born on a train in Panama). I don't remember anything about the Munson biography. Ha! I knew what mattered even then!
The Brock biography was always my favorite, just because I became enamored with base-stealing types really early in my baseball-rooting career.
Both Brock and Seaver were all over leader cards and record-breaking cards when I was a kid.
And there was all-time stuff, too. Most stolen bases, lifetime. The first card in the 1978 Topps set! When the '78 set came to our house, the first set I ever saw intact, this Brock record breaker was the first card pulled out of that box.
And here's Seaver's record-breaker, most consecutive seasons with 200-or-more strikeouts. And this is when players didn't strike out a whole lot.
Brock's career ended by the time I was 14, so I didn't get to see him a lot, especially living in New York and also because the Cardinals were not great in the 1970s and never showed up on NBC's Game of the Week or Monday Night Baseball.
But Seaver, I saw quite a bit. When we'd visit my other grandparents on Sundays, I'd plop in front of the old wood-paneled TV and watch the Mets with my grandfather. Getting to see Seaver or Koosman was a treat.
Both Brock and Seaver were parts of historic trades. Brock was traded by the Cubs to the Cardinals in the early 1960s in one of the all-time steal deals. Seaver was traded to the Reds as part of the "Midnight Massacre" and I remember that being the talk of Mets broadcasts for a long time as we tried to figure out who Doug Flynn and Steve Henderson were.
I am sure Seaver and Brock met many times since both played in the National League and after 1968 both were in the same National League East Division. I'd like to hear some of those stories.
I devoted a segment to each player in my "Best of the '70s Series" that I used to do a lot more often.
The 1976 Topps Lou Brock card won the voting when I ran that poll back in 2015.
The 1974 Tom Seaver won the Best of the '70s poll back in 2011.
And, yes, I did include 1970 Topps cards in each vote off. I just couldn't fit all 10 of the decade's cards in a nine-pocket page and the 1970 set is less '70s than any of the other ones.
But here are my well-handled copies of both:
Both Seaver and Brock began playing before I started following baseball. Brock was playing before I was born and Seaver was playing when I could barely walk.
But all of the '70s cards show you that each were major parts of my childhood and some of the cards of each -- particularly the 1975 Topps Seaver and the 1976 Brock -- were HUGE cards on the playground.
Cards were different then, a lot different from the cards that have been issued for the last 25 years or so, heck even different than cards from the '80s.
Cards were a means to connect to players, especially the star players. We saw these players, if we were lucky, once a week on our televisions. Going to ballgames was almost out of the question, a once-every-five years special treat. There was no streaming, no social media, no cable. We had newspapers, magazines and baseball cards. That's how you connected to players.
When I write that, it sounds like an ancient time. And maybe it is, because now the players I saw on cards as a kid are starting to pass away. It was always guys from the '50s and '60s before and now -- well, now, this is hitting a little too close to home. The 1975 Topps set -- my all-time favorite, collected on the playground and in the bedroom -- has 132 dead guys in it.
That's a bit concerning.
But about all I can do is write about these folks (I've written about Brock and Seaver quite a bit on this blog and on others) and maybe give someone who didn't experience their ability, didn't read about them in a book or wear their glove, some idea of why they were a big deal.
It's not much fun getting older. But I feel very fortunate that I was able to collect these guys' cards as a kid.