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Three in 24 hours? Yeah, I'm old

I had another post planned for today, had the cards pulled and ready to scan, but death had other plans.

You know the old superstition that notable deaths come in threes? Well how about finding out three well-known baseball figures of my younger days died within a 24-hour period? That's an unsettling ramp-up.

It started yesterday afternoon and it's still going. Ken Holtzman. Gone. Whitey Herzog. Gone. Carl Erskine. Gone.

All three have meaning in my young rooting life, Erskine the most obvious, though I never saw him play. I'll start with him because that's where I have the most to say.

 Carl Erskine was on one of the first five 1956 Topps cards I ever owned. I've mentioned before that when we received a bunch of '56s from my dad's co-worker, my brothers and I split them up and decided that all the cards of each person's favorite team would go to that person (my one Orioles-loving brother got screwed).

Erskine arrived with Newcombe, Randy Jackson, Don Zimmer and the Dodgers team card. I've owned all five ever since that point. 

Although Erskine played before I was born, he did a lot of things in his career that I liked. He struck out 14 Yankees to set a World Series record. He no-hit the Giants. He won a World Series with the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers.

I also admired him when reading The Boys of Summer as a teenager, how he was raising a special needs son and his background in Indiana. One of his best friends growing up was a Black boy and later when Jackie Robinson joined the Dodgers, he was one of the teammates who had zero problem with Robinson playing.

I have most of Erskine's major cards from his playing career. The '57 Erskine is special to me as I also landed that card during the gift of '56s as there was a smattering of other cards. I've never upgraded it. I'm proud of that.

The '59 career-ender card is a favorite, too. The Red Heart card is my most recent Erskine, obtained at a card show within the last year.

I forgot to include his 1953 Bowman and there's no time to retake the pic, so here it is -- in all of its creased glory. I still need to get some of his '50s oddballs,

When I started blogging about cards, I got into TTM requests a little and found out instantly that Erskine was a terrific signer. He returned cards in almost a week's time and often he'd sign a second specially-made card and send that, too. I've gotten a couple of those.

These two cards came together. I'm super-pleased still that I sent the "Oisk" 1974 TCMA card. I keep meaning to get another card of this so I can add the Oisk to the special autograph binder but I still haven't.

Erskine also wrote a couple of books and I have a couple of those, always great reading about those old Boys of Summer players.

Erskine was a champion for equal rights throughout his life and one of those gentlemen of the sport. The fact that he lived to 97 years old is just fantastic, a rich life and a gift to others for almost 100 years.

He's not the last of the Brooklyn Dodgers living (there are still five left) but he is the last of The Boys of Summer and there are no more left on this earth. That is a lot to absorb.

So let's absorb another mind-bending departure.

Ken Holtzman passed away on Sunday at age 78. I heard about it yesterday afternoon. I was honored -- as I always am -- to be able to put an account of it in the newspaper last night.

Holtzman's career started before I knew what baseball was. By the time I did, he was an Oakland Athletic, making World Series life hell for the Dodgers. Had I been aware of that World Series in 1974, I probably wouldn't like him too much.

But there was a lot I didn't know collecting those '75 cards, some of my favorite cards in the set then were Oakland A's and San Francisco Giants.

Key among those favorites is the 1975 Holtzman card above. It's one of the greats from my childhood. You have not seen this card listed in my 1975 Topps countdown and you probably won't for awhile. I like it that much.

I explained it in detail on my '75 Topps blog a number of years ago. Here's the account again:

That card is ground-zero for childhood memories.

I posted about the card on Twitter, although I don't know why I still go there. The news about Holtzman was kind of drowned out there by John Sterling announcing his retirement as Yankees broadcaster. I can barely listen to his broadcasts and I think Holtzman was a lot better at his job.

There he is hitting a home run in a game in which he pitched.

Holtzman for me is an Oakland Athletic, not a Cub or a Yankee, at the peak of his game, winning three straight World Series titles. It hurts to have pinnacle guys like that from the '70s exiting at a faster and faster rate.

Finally, Whitey Herzog passed away yesterday at age 92. 

I started out a Herzog fan when he managed the Royals in the late 1970s, but that quickly turned. I've written about this in detail on the blog before so I won't repeat it. In short, he wasn't a favorite (I wonder if the person who confused Herzog and Red Schoendienst in 2024 Heritage now knows who Herzog is).

But he's the third accomplished major leaguer who made an impact on me between the ages of 9 and 16 to depart in the last 24 hours.

That's tough. It's not member-of-the-family tough, but it's something to grasp when you're in your 50s and realize that time is short.

Fortunately I still have the cards, so I'll never forget them. And in many cases, I'll keep on collecting them.


Old Cards said…
Another reason I read your blog is to get news. I was not aware of any of these deaths. Nice write up on all 3. Followed the link to your post about Herzog and was pleasantly surprised to see it was about the ASG. I enjoyed reading it just as much the second time around.
Kevin said…
Whitey Herzog was still alive?
Dave said…
Jimmy Erskine died around thanksgiving. Glad he and his papa are together again.
Nick said…
It seemed like every time I checked Twitter in the past 24 hours, a new legend had died. RIP to this illustrious trio. (Also, I never realized that was Holtzman hitting on that '75 Highlights card - I've had an excellent "pitcher at the plate" shot in my collection for years without even knowing it!)
steelehere said…
It's been a tough month for very well known players from the 1970's passing with Fritz Peterson, Pat Zachry and Jerry Grote also leaving us.
Also Indians' shortstop Larry Brown, 2 days before Holtzman.
Chris said…
You're right about Sterling's retirement overshadowing Holtzman - I'd heard that Erskine and Herzog passed but not him.

I'd also heard that the last surviving '55 Dodger is Sandy Koufax, which makes sense because he was, what, 20 years old that year?
Fuji said…
I had read about Erskine... but this is the first time hearing about Herzog and Holtzman. Herzog was back in an era where I actually enjoyed rooting for managers. Holtzman played a little before my time, but he's a fan favorite among A's fans... so I knew about him from cards and highlights.