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In perpetual mourning

Apologies for the morbid post, but I'm discovering that this is going to be a difficult time of year for me from now on.

My mom passed away two years ago on Mother's Day and my dad a month later. It's the second anniversary of that time period and the fragility of life is naturally on my mind.

It doesn't help that the players on my baseball cards keep leaving. Nothing underlines one's mortality quite like the news that another player whose card you collected as a kid has died.

I periodically recognize those recently departed players from my youth with individual posts but those passings of players from the very first set I ever collected -- 1975 Topps -- have been coming so frequently this year that I can't keep up. Often I'm just too shocked to write anything (For frequent commenter, steelehere, who often randomly mentions a former Dodger player's death on my posts, I do pay tribute to them on Twitter, even if I don't mention it on the blog. Here are one or two).

I should have known to brace myself when the above two titans of the '75 set passed within the first month of 2021.

But it's just kept on coming with all of the below leaving us within the last three months:

I mean that is some nonsense.

Losing all of these guys hurt -- much more than the loss of a player from the '50s or '60s (or '90s, for that matter) -- because they were the guys on my baseball cards when I first started collecting. I had them memorized, their picture, border color, number on the back. I can tell you what I thought about each of their cards, how Tom Hilgendorf looked like he was 50 to me and Angel Mangual seemed 6-foot-7 (even though it said "5-11" on his card back).

Some of the players I didn't get to know until the set that followed, after all allowance money went only so far and I could manage to collect only about 250-300 cards from a set each year.

So, Rennie Stennett saved his greatest impact for the 1976 Topps set. Good timing, of course, because that was the year he landed in the Record Breaker's subset that kicked off the '76 set.

This card was amazing to me. It introduced me to how many hits were "a lot" in a baseball game. I had no idea until I saw this card. Well, 7 hits must be a lot!

I've mentioned this card in a previous post, it's really the kind of card you don't pull in modern sets. That's a shame. It's a shame Rennie is no longer around to be a walking reminder of what a card should be.

Ken Reitz's impact arrived one set later, too. It was a good thing Ron Cey was my favorite player at the time or I would have suddenly found a new third baseman to follow, and that wouldn't' have been good because Reitz was a Giant by the time the 1977 set came out (and then he went back to the Cardinals for 1978, phew!).

That '76 Reitz card was everything. A wonderful shot, and the kind of youthful player that I connected with back then. It doesn't seem right that someone that I associated so much with youth and promise is now gone.
There were a handful of tributes to Reitz when he passed, but not enough for me to notice when the news first broke. That's a shame. Especially since I'm the one who knows that he is probably the first player to appear on a baseball card while blowing a bubble.

While I'm in the middle of the '76 set I might as well mention another player who has departed recently, Adrian Garrett, who was the brother of the better-known major leaguer, Wayne Garrett.

Adrian Garrett's 1976 card was famous in our house in '76 because of his .197 career batting average. We'd shuffle through the cards in our collection and find which batters could barely hit .200 and smirk and amuse ourselves, not realizing at all how difficult it was to hit a major league fastball.

And speaking of 1976 Topps cards, and players with low career batting averages on them, and those who have recently left this earth, here is Ed Armbrister. It says .202 for his career average on the back and, yeah, we noticed that a lot more than his famous interference play with Carlton Fisk in the 1975 World Series.

My formative years of collecting extend into the '80s and we're starting to lose players from that decade, too, which is amazing to me considering how youthful I've always considered that decade. It will always be vibrant and full of life to me.

That's why it's difficult to believe that Joe Beckwith has left. All I knew of him was promise. I wanted him to be the Dodgers' next great starter or reliever. His 1981 Topps card, man, that card is 12-feet tall in my mind.

So when I heard he was gone. I mentioned it on Twitter, and I'm glad I did because Beckwith's daughter saw it and thanked me for what I said. And that means a lot to folks like us who are in perpetual mourning. Both me and Beckwith's daughter are in that same club.

While I was making sure that I would mention all the players I needed to for this post, I came across another name who had departed and I hadn't heard the news. He's not someone who many remember and certainly no one on social media would pay attention.

Phil Lombardi's card is one of the only ones I remember pulling out of the only pack of 1988 Topps I bought that year. I was drawn to the card immediately -- how could you not? But I had no idea who he was, and I took that as a sign that I was out of the loop with baseball cards, which I actually hadn't been collecting actively (buying packs regularly at the store) since 1984.
Now he's gone, at a too-young age. And that's my only memory of him. But at least the card introduced me to his career.

That's a great thing about cards -- the introductions. You discover players and other things about those people, from pieces of cardboard.
Del Crandall -- yes, he's another one from the 1975 set that has just left -- had the honor of being the first person in my collection for which I had a player card of him and a manager card of him.

His player card arrived when we received that grocery bag full of mid-1950s cards when I was a young teenager. It was mind-blowing to see Del Crandall as both a young player and a manager at that time.
Today, this is what's mind-blowing:

That many people on a single page of the '75 Topps set have passed on. (Don't freak out, it's just Del whose gone from the Brewers team, not the whole team!).
Thank goodness checklists live forever.

So, the news came the other day that Mike Marshall was the latest player from the 1975 Topps set to depart (149 people and counting).

"Iron Mike," still the only pitcher to appear in 100 games in a season and the first reliever to win the Cy Young Award, was 78, and like some of the other players I mentioned earlier, is someone I didn't see on a card until the 1976 Topps set.

I loved this card. I still do. It's my favorite Dodgers card from this set. And every Marshall card is precious because he appeared on so few of them.

In fact, I just ordered the O-Pee-Chee version of this card on Friday, just a handful of days before Marshall's death.

I like to consider it a tribute. I ask my cards to do a lot of things these days, and getting through the grief of everyday life is one of them now.
Once cards were about introductions. Now they're about departures.

But I'm OK. Death is part of life, I know that. I just miss that time when the only people who died were your great grandparents and baseball players whose pictures were in black-and-white.

RIP, to all. Your baseball cards live on in my collection.


John Bateman said…
This post struck me in a different way. It made me realize that the 1976 and 1984 Topps sets were only 8 years apart but it feels like it is much longer period. The 1960 and 1968 Topps set are 8 years apart but they feel just about right in that distant of time. The same goes with The 2013 and 2021 Topps cards. Even the turbulent 1990s, the 1991 and 1999 Topps set, though looking and feeling nothing like each other don't feel as out of place after 8 years as the 1976-1984 Topps cards.

I think 1976 Topps was an end of an era of the Vibrant Color on Topps cards. The color in the team name an player name just stand out so much. The colors that appear on Mike Marshall card have never appeared again on a Topps set. The only set to come close but failed to match it was the 2008 (Balloon) Topps set. 2009 Upper Deck O-Pee-Chee was the closet set to bring back vibrant colors on front of the card (of course they were trying to steal the 1976 design.)
Fuji said…
I wasn't collecting in the 70's... but once a bunch of guys from the 1987 Topps set start passing away, I'm sure it'll hit me hard. And whenever I see a post about your mom... I think of my mom. That was a rough year for both of us.
Mark Hoyle said…
I’ve had some of these same thought. Players of our youth are beginning to pass. It puts out life in perspective
Jon said…
I don't think anyone expects you move past your losses anytime soon, so you can probably forgo the apologies in future posts. And if someone did actually have a problem with you talking about your parents, well, you're probably better off with them not coming around your blog.
"Once cards were about introductions. Now they're about departures."

Owl, that is so true. Sad, but true.
Jamie Meyers said…
We are almost the exact same age. My father died in 2014 and my mother is hanging in but definitely approaching the exit ramp. It's very hard and stays with a person forever moving forward. I suspect that you could create similar looking pages for just about every page in the binder for the '75 set. At least one more goes every few weeks, so it seems. Those guys are pictured, frozen in time, as they were almost 50 years ago now, on their cards. in my mind they should all still be young and vital, even the grizzled vets who looked 50 years old even then. I've met probably a dozen players from that 75 set, all in the past 15 years or so. I'm always struck when I give them a copy of their card to sign and they're old men. Then again, I'm always struck when I look at myself in the mirror and see wrinkles and gray hair too. The agony and ecstasy of living, I guess.

Regarding another comment above, guys from the 87 set are beginning to pass on with increasing regularity as well. I collect autographs on both the 75 and 87 sets and when I guy passes I mark that row in gray. There is ever more gray each time I update the sheet.
bryan was here said…
For me, it's the '81 Topps, because it was the first set I collected by buying packs. With thew recent passing of Joe Beckwith, that set is up to 80 and counting. That's including players on Future Stars cards like Pascual Perez, Rick Anderson, and Steve Macko. It's mind-blowing to me that the youngest player featured in that set recently turned 60.