Tuesday, July 12, 2016
Joy of a team set, chapter 8 (40 years of all-stars)
I will be starting this book tomorrow. The timing is perfect because the 1976 All-Star Game was played exactly 40 years ago tomorrow.
It was the first All-Star Game I ever watched. I don't remember a single moment from that game (before the advent of youtube anyway), which likely means I may have watched maybe the first inning or maybe just the opening introductions before I was shooed off to bed. My mother was coping with two of her sons' sudden insistence on watching every baseball game available (and there weren't many available then) and probably didn't understand it at all. By the following year, we had her somewhat in line and I recall staying up to watch virtually all of the 1977 All-Star Game in Yankee Stadium.
Those late '70s All-Star Games are my favorite All-Star memories. The players who played in those games I consider to be "my All-Stars." I was watching a little bit of MLB Network's replay of the 1992 All-Star Game last night (you think I watch HR Derby anymore?), and I felt very little connection. Braves and mullets running all over the field. Give me wild uniforms, long hair and Davey Concepcion.
The '76 All-Star Game dropped in the middle of the National League's dominance of the event. Watching video from the game you can see how unrelenting and confident the NL was at the time. They won the game, 7-1, and George Foster was named the MVP.
I thought I'd commemorate that first ASG I ever watched by showing the starting All-Star lineups for each team. Although they weren't featured as a subset in the 1977 Topps set, they are a team set unto themselves, enough for this exercise anyway.
Here are those teams, American League first:
That is the exact order in which they batted to start the All-Star Game on July 13, 1976 at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia. It's interesting to note that there were no substitutions for the players who were voted in as starters. Everyone voted in began the game.
OK, let's get to the breakdown:
Favorite card runners-up:
This is a toughie so I added a couple more spots: 10. Rod Carew; 9. Ron LeFlore; 8. Steve Garvey; 7. Greg Luzinski; 6. Pete Rose: 5. George Brett; 4. Rusty Staub; 3. George Foster; 2. Dave Kingman.
Favorite element on the back:
I've mentioned before that the cartoons in 1977 Topps are among my favorites of any baseball card set. Creative and informative. This factoid interests me still today.
Famous error card: This was before "error cards" became a big deal. I don't know of any errors in the All-Star set. If you want a "something's not right" element in the set, then the Bob Grich card is for you. He played the 1976 season with the Orioles, but then signed as a free agent with the Angels after the season. The '77 card was the result of that transaction:
Grich is wearing an Orioles uniform there in Yankee Stadium. Angels didn't make the ASG starting lineup in the mid-1970s.
Team's claim to fame: This is the bicentennial All-Star team. It's the All-Star Game started by rookie sensation Mark Fidrych. And it's kind of George Foster's coming-out party on a national level. The NL, featuring an abundance of Reds and Phillies, was a preview of the 1976 NLCS.
Players I've talked to: Lil' ol' me? Not a one.
Most interesting card:
Given that the All-Star Game is in San Diego this year and these uniforms were forced onto the bodies of every All-Star yesterday, I'll throw the city a bone. I didn't like this card when I pulled it in '77 because Jones wasn't wearing a hat. I didn't grasp the glory of a '70s perm at the time. I do appreciate its uniqueness now. It is about as '70s a card as there is.
Former or future Dodgers: Aside from Steve Garvey, none. Fred Lynn was very nearly traded to the Dodgers in December of 1980, but the Dodgers and Lynn couldn't agree on a contract and the deal never happened.
Other interesting tidbits: There are so many. One thing I noted was that ABC did not air the introduction of the lineups as has been a tradition for most of the time I've been watching the game. Instead, they had the players in the starting lineup introduce themselves, which was a trend at the time.
I liked the self-introductions because you can see the personalities come out in some of the players: Johnny Bench, George Brett, Mark Fidrych, Rusty Staub in particular. And you can see the players who really didn't care for this nonsense: Thurman Munson, Rod Carew, Toby Harrah. Ron LeFlore issues the longest introduction, expressing his hope that he pleases the fans. Brett makes sure you know he's Ken Brett's kid brother. And Joe Morgan you just know will be a broadcaster.
The announcers for that game -- Bob Prince, Warner Wolf and Bob Uecker -- give off the folksy vibe that was a lot more prevalent at the time. The whole game was more folksy. If you've never watched video and want to know what '70s baseball was about, that's a good place to start.
Favorite card in the set:
Of course, it's The Bird. He didn't fare too well in the game, but he got a great card out of it.
This All-Star Game set the course for my appreciation for the event for years to come. It's not the same game that was played then, with lots of added elements and tinkering that never needed to happen in the first place but apparently must be instituted to please the ADD crowd.
I don't let it get me down (unless they don't finish the damn game) because I remember how much fun I had as a kid watching the event in the middle of summer with junk food and baseball cards on the carpet in front of me.
Tonight, I will eat some of that same junk food (I don't drink beer during the All-Star Game because as much as I like it, I wasn't guzzling beer as a 10-year-old) and watch every single inning.
You want "joy of a team set"? "Joy" is having the All-Star Game come around every year for 40 years.
Thanks again for joining me for "Joy of a Team Set."