George Foster, Aviators and Accusations

1986 Topps - George Foster
1986 Topps – George Foster

There are a lot of things I wish had carried over from baseball in the 1970’s and 1980’s to the present day. I could do without all the cookie-cutter stadiums, AstroTurf and scandals (well, I’m sure there will always be those), but there are a lot of things I would have liked to see in today’s game.

One of these things is a sense of style like the one George Foster had. George is pictured here late in his career with the New York Mets. You see, George is wearing aviator sunglasses during the game. Not fancy Oakleys, not those flip down ones they wear in the field. Just pure classic aviators. That’s a whole new level of cool that I know I could never pull off.

George hit 52 home runs in 1977 in Cincinnati, which was the last time anyone hit 50 until Cecil Fielder in 1990. In between, though, he left Cincy in a bit of a huff, and then played the race card with the New York Mets, even though they replaced him with Kevin Mitchell and had Darryl Strawberry and Doc Gooden as their marquee players. Yes, I know what you’re thinking. That Kevin Mitchell.

Sometimes you gotta be able to let go, George, but don’t ever let go of that style.

Gary Pettis, Pac-Man and the Fountain of Youth

1985Topps-GaryPettis
1985 Topps – Gary Pettis

Take a look at this card. You might be wondering if Gary Pettis won a contest at his elementary school where the prize was the opportunity to appear on a Topps Major League Baseball card. The answer is no, that is not the case.

Gary Pettis was, in reality, 27 years old in 1985. However, that’s not him on the card. It’s his little brother Lynn, who was actually 16 at the time the picture was taken. Can you imagine pulling that off as a 16-year-old? I’d obviously get as many of them as I could and sign autographs for everyone I met, everywhere I went.

I don’t know anything about Lynn Pettis other than about his appearance on this card and clearly his legendary status at his high school, but his brother won five Gold Gloves. Not bad.

Gary was also nicknamed Pac-Man because of the way he ate up ground balls in the outfield. For you kids out there, Pac-Man was a video game of some note in the 1980’s. Look up some pictures, it’ll make sense.

Also, great job catching that one, Topps. Gold star performance.

Brendan Shanahan, New Jersey, Toronto, and Useless Facts

1988-89 O-Pee-Chee - Brendan Shanahan
1988-89 O-Pee-Chee – Brendan Shanahan
2009-10 O-Pee-Chee - Brendan Shanahan
2009-10 O-Pee-Chee – Brendan Shanahan

In light of today’s announcement regarding the Toronto Maple Leafs, I thought we’d look at a little Now and Then of the man, Brendan Shanahan, who just hired the man who drafted him, Lou Lamoriello.

Shanahan began (in 1987-88) and ended (in 2008-09) his career with the New Jersey Devils. Even though there were four other stops in between, the connection is obvious.

A few things to note about Shanahan’s career between the bookends above:

-His signing with St. Louis as a free agent led to Scott Stevens being awarded to the Devils as compensation… that turned out pretty well for Lamoriello, I’d say.
-He was one of the first Canadian members of the Triple Gold Club after his Olympic gold medal win in 2002
-His request for a trade out of Hartford led to Paul Coffey being traded to the Whalers, where he played all of 20 games, which is more than he played for either the Boston Bruins (18) or Chicago Blackhawks (10). Useless fact, sure, but why else are you here?

We’ll see how this goes for the Leafs this season, but who wouldn’t pay money to be a fly on the wall for some of those conversations between Shanahan, Lamoriello and Mike Babcock? This is going to be fun.

Stormin’ Gorman Thomas and Truck Stops

1986Topps-GormanThomas
1986 Topps – Gorman Thomas

I know what you’re thinking, and no, this picture was not taken at a truck stop in the movie Smokey and the Bandit and photoshopped onto this baseball card. This is actually what Gorman Thomas looked like near the end of his Major League Baseball career.

Outside of Mike Schmidt, who you might have heard of, nobody hit more home runs than ol’ Stormin’ Gorman between 1978 and 1983. Schmidt had 220, Thomas had 197. Not bad.

Now, I found a few clips here that will make you really understand Gorman Thomas. The first two are courtesy of the crew at Disciples of Uecker:

“They come to see me strike out, hit a home run, or run into a fence. I try to accommodate them at least one way every game.” – This is a quote from Gorman himself, and it makes me long for a simpler time.

“In Okrent’s account, it’s easy to understand why Gorman Thomas was such a fan favorite in Milwaukee. Thomas drank beers with tailgaters in the County Stadium parking lot, had a beer gut, and smoked Marlboros.” – I’ve never been to Milwaukee, but this pretty much embodies everything that I hope and dream Milwaukee stands for. I want Milwaukee to be a city from a simpler time and I don’t care if they’re mad at me for wanting that.

Now, this is from Wikipedia, a fairly popular website that you may have encountered:

“At present, he works under a personal services contract with the Brewers to make appearances in the community and welcome visitors to Gorman’s Grill at Miller Park.” – Basically, he’s a mascot for a restaurant/bar at a Major League Baseball stadium. This is literally my dream job. I want to meet this man and learn from him.  He also wore the shit out of that hat.

Neil Wilkinson, Easton Air and California Cool

1991-92 Score - Neil Wilkinson
1991-92 Score – Neil Wilkinson

I’m not here to talk about Neil Wilkinson’s 460 career games in the NHL, nor am I here to talk about his induction to the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame – in the same class as Theo Fleury, no less.  I’m also not here to talk about his key role in the Minnesota North Stars’ run to the Stanley Cup Final in 1991.

I’m here to talk about the gloves he’s wearing in this picture from the San Jose Sharks inaugural season, 1991-92 (the year they went 17-58-5, not the next year when they went 11-71-2).  Those teal, black and silver Easton Airs.

If you were ten years old then, trust me, you wanted those gloves.  If you were lucky enough to have these gloves and an Easton Aluminum stick, holy shit, were you ever cool.  Look good, play good, so they say.

Pete Vuckovich, Moustaches and Underrated Franchise Legends

1986 Topps - Pete Vuckovich
1986 Topps – Pete Vuckovich

In exciting news, pitchers and catchers reported for the Toronto Blue Jays today, February 22… along with the Minnesota Twins, they were the last team to report to Spring Training.  Which means the injuries to their pitching staff will take place just slightly later than all the other teams.  That counts as win number one, I’d say.

Now, speaking of Blue Jays pitchers, we need to talk about someone important.  He is the man who saved the first win in Toronto Blue Jays history – you might recall a snow covered plastic field and a win over the Chicago White Sox (the team that let him go in the Expansion Draft) – and who also pitched the first shutout in Jays history, a 12-strikeout masterpiece over the Baltimore Orioles.  I’ll bet there aren’t a ton of guys with stats like that.  His name is Pete Vuckovich.

Vuckovich, now a Special Assistant to the GM with the Seattle Mariners, despite his contributions to Blue Jays history, should be most famous for his facial hair, and slightly less famous for his regular hair.  He perpetuated the former image of “Toronto the Good” with his clean-cut, preppy image during his brief time in Toronto, but later, blew that shit out of the water when he decided to look like he did on the card above, a little bit in St. Louis, and then a lot with the Milwaukee Brewers.  Put the moustache, the bowl-cut mullet, and the “I’m going to kill you with a hammer” facial expression together and you’ve got yourself a legend.

Maybe a team that went 54-107 in their first season should have tried to keep this guy for another year or two, even if they didn’t know he’d end up with the moustache.

Lanny McDonald, Bad Helmets, and Colorado

1981-82 Topps - Lanny McDonald
1981-82 Topps – Lanny McDonald

Lanny McDonald played 142 games in one full season and parts of two others for the Colorado Rockies, scoring 66 goals and 75 assists for 141 points.  However, for most people, it’s an easy part of his career to forget, stuck between some tumultuous years in Toronto with Harold Ballard and Punch Imlach, and eight seasons and a Stanley Cup back home in Alberta with the Calgary Flames.

Two things that were consistent for him throughout his career were his trademark moustache, which you’ve heard all about.  It’s an incredible legend.  He also wore a pretty ugly helmet, which, interestingly enough, he wore every game of his NHL career except the first.  There, now you’ve learned something.