Skip to main content

The end of cool


My guess is that everyone who came of age near the end of a decade has experienced this. But this is my story, and it revolves around Frank Tanana.

As a child of 10, 11, 12, I thought many of my cards were cool. Those cards featured players in action. Ralph Garr in 1975, Mike Schmidt in 1976, Bob Tolan in 1977. They also featured players with mustaches. Ron Cey in '75, Bob Grich in '76, Al Oliver in '78.

I would sit in my bedroom, or in the back patio, or on my friend's porch and shuffle, stack and stare at the cards from the mid-to-late '70s. My greatest concern, other than schoolwork, the jerky neighbor kid, or making too much noise in the house, was where I could find my next pack.

With nothing to clog my brain, I could evaluate which cards were the height of cool. And this 1977 Topps Frank Tanana card was the pinnacle.

This blog is not complete without a detailed dissection of everything that is great about this card.

First, let's consider Tanana himself. He is left-handed. I am left-handed. He was a second-banana to Nolan Ryan. I gravitated toward second bananas. Why pay attention to blowhard Fred Flintstone when his buddy Barney Rubble was so much more pleasant and funny?

Now, let's consider the card. It is a well-framed look at a fastball pitcher completing his delivery. It's difficult to tell, because of the shadow running across Tanana's face, but his expression appears to say, "here it is, try to hit it." He's almost smiling at the thought of what the batter can't do.

The best part of the card -- the part that drew my attention when I was a kid -- is the white blob to the left of Tanana's left hand. It is probably just background glare, but it looked to me as if there was actually SMOKE emerging from Tanana's hand, as if the ball had left a fiery trail.

This was too awesome for an 11-year-old like me to put into words. But I treasured that card like no other non-Dodger in the 1977 set, even the ones with the All-Star bars on the bottom. I didn't even know that Tanana was the reigning ERA champion at the time or the strikeout champion the year prior. All I knew was this photo and the fact that he was No. 200 in the set. I would trade this card for nobody.


1978 came and I was a year older. Tanana remained at the top of his game, a 200-strikeout pitcher with a ERA around 2.5.

When I saw this card, it disappointed me slightly. No action. However, the mustache, which was actually new for Tanana, erased my concern. What a terrific photo. Tanana, brooding -- GLARING -- in the dugout. I thought this card was cool, too.

Tanana was quickly becoming one of my favorite players. And, unbeknownst to me, he was becoming one of the ladies' favorite players. (That article explains the '70s better than I ever could).

Not only had I proclaimed him cool, but the whole world apparently had also. After all, he was card No. 600. Still throwing those double zeroes. Try to hit him.


Then came 1979.

Tanana hurt his arm. He pitched just 90 innings. His ERA soared. And while all of this was going on, I saw THIS card.

What the hell was this? Where was the action? Where was the mustache? Where was the brooding? Is this guy -- who you CLAIM to be Frank Tanana -- LAUGHING? Frank Tanana doesn't laugh. Except after striking people out. He broods, drops guys with a 100-mph burner, and then laughs. But he doesn't laugh in an empty stadium with one eye closed like a goofball.

FRANK TANANA IS NOT GOOFY, HE IS COOL!!!!

I was going through a rough time. I turned 14 in the middle of the year, and everyone knows that when you're 14, nothing is the same anymore. You are too aware. The world and everything you once thought awesome and heroic now sucks.

Add to that, it was the end of a decade. And it wasn't a very good ending. Gas lines and hostages. The decade, my childhood, was ending and never coming back, and neither was Frank Tanana. Or at least not the Frank Tanana that I knew.

It was the end of cool. His 1979 Topps card was the dividing line. For him, for the decade, for everything. God, the '80s were going to suck.


Tanana did come back, but with permed hair. I didn't like permed hair. Every guy with permed hair looked like my mom's female friends.

He also didn't have his old fastball anymore.


And then he didn't have his mustache anymore.

He later left the Angels and went to the Red Sox. His mustache returned, but he was a new pitcher with an array of junk instead of smoke. He couldn't throw fire. So what was the point of showing him in action?

Tanana actually lasted a lot longer after his injuries than anyone ever guessed. He also cleaned up his life and devoted himself to his religion.


I guess the dad in me, the grown-up in me, is required to consider those things cool, too.

But I'm sorry, this picture of a clean-shaven, junkball-throwing, 35-year-old guy would never be considered cool by a certain 11-year-old who was fascinated by his 1977 Topps baseball card.


This will always be the epitome of cool.

Comments

Tanana. the man who pitched in the 90s in the 70s and 70s in the 90s.. and has a special place in Tiger hearts with his clinching 1-0 defeat vs Blue Jays last weekend of 1987
Unknown said…
I love that 77 card. I never had it when I was collecting, and I think this is the first time that I have ever seen it. Thanks for showing another masterpiece of the 70's.
Mark Kaz said…
Funny stuff! Eerie, too, since I just picked up Tanana's '78 and '79 cards at the last show I went to!
steelehere said…
Was a big fan of Frank Tanana as well as a kid. It had a lot to do with his pose on the scorecard I acquired at a game I attended in 1977. On it, he was called the "Top Banana".

http://i.ebayimg.com/00/s/NDgwWDM2NQ==/$(KGrHqFHJ!0E8+mP9nGgBPRv1tSUbw~~60_57.JPG
Stack22 said…
That article you linked to was a very interesting read. I prefer the term "talent" to "feex" myself.
I love Frank Tanana. I remember watching him stretch and run during BP or watching him pitch at the Big A, or reading about him in The Register. I was 11 in 1975. This post was a good read Man.

Popular posts from this blog

Stuck in traffic with Series 2

In the whirlwind that has been my life this month, I found myself going absolutely nowhere for a portion of Thursday afternoon. I was in the middle of yet another road trip, the third one this week. This one was for work, and because it was job-related, it became quickly apparent that it would be a waste of time. The only thing that could save it was a side visit to the nearby Walmart to see if I could spot some Topps Series 2. I found it right away, which was shocking as I was pretty much in the middle of the country, where SUVs share the road with tractors and buggies. Who knew that the Amish wanted Series 2, too? The problem was getting back into civilization to open the contents of the 72-card hanger box I bought. The neighboring village is undergoing a summer construction project smack in the middle of downtown. It's not much of a downtown, but the main road happens to be the main artery in the entire county. Everyone -- and by everyone I mean every tractor trailer ha

Heading upstate

  Back in 1999, Sports Illustrated published an edition at the end of the year rating the top 50 athletes of the century for every state.   As a lifelong Upstate New Yorker, I braced for a list of New York State athletes that consisted almost entirely of downstate natives, that is, folks from the greater NYC area and Long Island.   We Upstaters are used to New York City trampling all over the rest of the state. They have the most people, the loudest voices. It happens all the time. It's a phenomenon unique to this state. Heck, there are still people out there who, when you tell them you're from New York, automatically think you're from NYC. They don't think of cows and chickens when they think of New York. But trust me, there are a lot of cows and chickens in New York State. Especially cows.   So, anyway, when I counted up the baseball players that SI listed as the greatest from New York State, six of the nine were from New York City or Long Island. I was surprised all

G.O.A.T, the '80s: 30-21

  I often call this current period of the television sports calendar the black hole of sports programming. The time between the end of the Super Bowl and the beginning of televised Spring Training baseball games is an empty void when I'm looking for something to watch on traditional television. I don't watch the NBA and I find the NHL on TV holds my interest for maybe a period. College basketball I can't watch until the tournament. This didn't used to be as much of a problem back when I could turn instead to my favorite sitcoms in February. Do you remember when February was "sweeps month"? (Maybe it still is, I don't know). Networks would make sure that every top show aired original episodes that month, no reruns. So you'd always have something to view during the week even when the sports scene was boring. (I know, people have multiple streaming viewing options now. But I find myself going weeks sometimes before I see something I want to view on Netfli