Thursday, October 17, 2013

C.A.: 1981 Fleer Rodney Craig

(The battle over what to post is a daily one. What should I post? How much time do I have? Did I just do a trade post? Should I do another one? How many cards to scan? Can I squeeze it around the looming life-or-death crisis? Finally, I give up and this is the result: Time for Cardboard Appreciation. This is the 190th in a series):

I don't like dwelling on the negative all the time. This is the second straight Cardboard Appreciation post to deal with the recently deceased. But when people aren't properly eulogized, well ...

Rodney Craig died on the streets of Los Angeles exactly two months ago. A homeless man, he was accosted in a dispute and stabbed to death, according to a police report. He was 55 years old.

Craig, who last played major league ball for the White Sox in 1986 and pro ball for high Class A Salinas in 1990, apparently developed a drug problem that he could never shake and lived on the streets.

I admit, I am torn by this story. I've been told many times, by many well-intentioned people, that the homeless are homeless through choices they've made. But sometimes that's true and sometimes it isn't. Or sometimes it's a little bit true and sometimes it's a lot true. But, regardless, the man is dead and died in a way that no one should.

Reading the comments on that L.A. Times story was painful. A lot of arguing back and forth about whether homeless people are good or bad. I don't think that's a proper thing to discuss upon news of someone's death. Especially not publicly. But the internet is filled with inappropriate behavior.

But I also felt pain because of my interest in card collecting. I know Craig from his 1981 Fleer card. This card made an impact because it marked Craig's "arrival" in the card world. I always silently celebrated when I saw cards like this.

This is what I mean:

In 1980, Craig made his first appearance on a Topps card. It was pretty cool that he was the one that got to display a bat. You didn't see that a lot in those mug-shot rookie poses.

But in 1981 Topps, Craig appeared on a three-player rookie card again. This was bad news. Dale Murphy excluded, not a lot of players who were relegated to back-to-back multi-rookie cards made a big-league impression. At least that's what I thought then: If they were a future star, then how come there was no individual card of them for two straight years?

Fortunately, there was more than one set in 1981. This Fleer card signaled Craig's arrival. It was special to me. It had to be special to him.

With the exception of his 1983 Donruss card with the Indians, this would be Craig's only solo card.

As a major leaguer.

A lot of people probably know one of his minor league cards:

This card has been cited by countless web sites as one of the worst baseball cards of all-time.

The card, I admit, is pretty amusing. But knowing that Craig died two months ago, it just makes it sad. He deserved better. Homeless or not. Drug addict or not.

There is a better minor league card of Craig. This is from a 1979 TCMA Spokane Indians set that was featured on Number 5 Type Collection.

But this is probably the way I prefer to remember Craig the most, regardless of whether I truly knew much about him:

Bat held straight and high. Helmet high on his head. Left arm cocked. His light blue road uniform basking in the rays of a day game.

Craig may have been homeless, but he was a baseball player. He played at the highest level of his chosen profession. He appeared on a baseball card.

Not everyone can say that.

(A more proper obit).


  1. This reminds me when Rod Scurry died. I was too young to remember the drug trials and only knew him only from his baseball cards. But those had his draft info and a birth date on them and I could do the math: #1 draft pick in 1974, dead at 36. Young men who lose control and leave us so soon.

  2. One of those great cards where you can just hear the radio announcer start to make the call "...cocking the bat up high over his left shoulder, Craig steps into the box..."

  3. Great post. Makes us remember that these guys on cardboard are just like us in so many ways.

    I had so many '81 Fleer that I'm sure I had that one but I don't remember it.