Red Sox Celebrate David Ortiz; Collectors Celebrate Unique Big Papi Baseball Cards

During his 14 years with the Boston Red Sox, David Ortiz became the face of the franchise, leading the team to three World Series championships while becoming just the 27th member of baseball’s exclusive 500 home run club.  As one of baseball’s top sluggers, Ortiz became quite popular with baseball card and memorabilia collectors as well.  A wide-range of Ortiz variation, rookie, game-used-memorabilia, and autographed baseball cards remain popular even with Ortiz six months into retirement.

Some of the most memorable and coveted baseball cards are the ones that capture a unique moment in baseball or a city’s history.  The rare variation of Ortiz’s 2013 second series Topps card captures one of the more emotional moments in Boston sports history.  A defiant Ortiz took the field just five days after the tragic Boston Marathon bombing, making an impassioned, heartfelt speech declaring  the city’s resolve.

Known in collectible circles as the “Boston Strong” card, Ortiz is pictured with a microphone in one hand and a clenched fist raised to the heavens with the other.  In the background is a giant American flag draped over Fenway’s left field wall, creating a uniquely patriotic scene.  Upon release, the short-printed “Boston Strong” card sold in the $50-$75 range.  Following the Red Sox third World Series title in 10 years in October of the 2013 season, the card was selling in excess of $150.  During the height of the Big Papi Farewell Tour last summer , the card sold for as much as $199.  Today the card value has settled in the $35-$65 range.

Ortiz played a huge role in the Red Sox six-game 2013 World Series victory over the St. Louis Cardinals, hitting .688 with two homers and six RBI en route to being named World Series MVP.  The popular Topps World Champion autograph insert set features top postseason sluggers. The 2014 edition captures Ortiz’s famed home run stroke along with his certified signature.  Limited to a production run of 50, the Ortiz World Series autographed card sells for $59.

When Ortiz joined the Red Sox in 2003, there was considerable confusion surrounding his rookie baseball cards.  Prior to signing with the Red Sox, Ortiz played several seasons in the Seattle and Minnesota systems.  Signed out of the Dominican Republic by the Mariners in 1994 just days after his 17th birthday, Ortiz, who gradually established himself as a power-hitting prospect, was traded to the Twins as the player to be named later for Dave Hollins prior to the 1997 season.  

After joining the Twins system, Ortiz decided to change his baseball name.  His legal name had always been David Americo Ortiz Arias. While playing with the Mariners, he went by his maternal family name (Arias) rather than his paternal family name (Ortiz).  As a result, his earliest baseball cards are listed as David Arias.  With the Twins, he requested to be called Ortiz, which has stuck ever since.  

Ortiz joined the Red Sox as a platoon player in 2003, so many collectors didn’t connect the dots between David Arias and David Ortiz, meaning the Arias rookie cards were readily available for under $1 during the first half of the season.  With more playing time came more home runs and a knack for late-inning heroics.  By season’s end Ortiz slugged 30 homers in just 128 games, boasting the David Arias cards to $10-$15.

One of only two Ortiz rookie cards, the 1997 Fleer “David Arias” card could be found in 1997 Fleer Series 2 packs.  The base version of the card, sporting a throwback matte finish during an era of high-gloss cards, currently sells for $30.  The far more limited “Tiffany” parallel version — one of the  more valuable Oriz cards in the market — features a high-gloss look and feel while selling for $400 .

 

The other Ortiz (Arias) rookie is from the 1997 Fleer Ultra series, a slightly more upscale version of the Fleer set, sells for $35.  The full-bleed, glossy look was a popular alternative to the  high-priced Tiffany parallel set.  Gold Medallion parallel versions display  a different picture and gold-foil lettering. Limited to just 200 copies, the popular parallel version sells for $49.

The Topps Bowman brand, known as the  “Home of the Rookie Card”, somehow bypassed Ortiz in its 1997 set.  Sometimes wrongly advertised as a rookie, the 1998 Bowman Ortiz is readily   available for under $4.  Far more limited chrome and International refractor parallel versions sell for $18 and $15 respectively.  

For oddball baseball card collectors, there is a handful of Ortiz pre-rookie cards that have become quite popular in the slugger’s final season.  The Ortiz (Arias) 1996 Wisconsin Timber Rattlers Midwest League All-Star card,is an overlooked gem selling for $48.  His 1998 New Britain Red Cats Best minor league card is selling for $15.  Both cards feature a relatively elementary design with simple white borders — a far cry from the  the glitzy, full-bleed photos popular with major league sets in the late ‘90s.  The more mainstream Upper Deck 1998 SP minor league Ortiz card — featuring a portrait of a svelte, smiling Ortiz inside a silver foil border — sells for $5.  

Ortiz made his Topps debut in the 1998 edition where he was featured in a prospect card with future All-Star slugger Richie Sexson.  Ortiz made his first appearance in a Red Sox jersey in the more obscure 2003 Fleer Update Series and the 2003 Upper Deck 40-Man set.  All three cards can be had for $3.

The hobby’s most sought after and costly cards are serial numbered autographs of baseball’s top players.  Ortiz autographs have been extremely active in the secondary market since the start of the season. His 1997 Donruss Signature Series Autograph is his first card to carry the name “David Ortiz” instead of “David Arias”.  The base version (red background) has 3,900 copies and is selling for $122, while the Millennium parallel Version (green background) is limited to 1,000 copies and is selling for $225.  Perhaps the most valuable Ortiz autographed card is the Signature Series Century Autograph (blue background) is numbered to just 100 and is selling for $600.

A common gripe among autograph collectors is Ortiz’s failure to sign within the designated area of the Donruss Signature Series.  Most signatures in all three versions appear towards the side of the card rather than the bottom.  Ortiz’s signing gaffe may have held down the card values before he established himself as one of the game’s top sluggers.  There is no such issue today.  The 2005 SkyBox Autographics signature card is available for under $60, providing a nice alternative to the high priced Signature Series autographs.

As the Red Sox prepare to retire Ortiz’s number, expect his baseball cards to sell at elevated prices.  No. 34 placed among Red Sox immortals along Fenway Parks right field roof facade means increased attention for their charismatic slugger, which means inflated values for his cards.  You can anticipate card values to decline and level off later this summer.  The next boost for Ortiz cards will come in five years when one of the Red Sox all-time sluggers is Hall of Fame eligible.  

The Hall of Fame electorate and many old school baseball fans have shunned the DH position since its inception in 1973.  Edgar Martinez, one of the best pure hitters of his time, has yet to receive more than 36.5 percent of the HOF vote in six tries.  Quality hitters such as Don Baylor and Harold Baines have barely registered a blip on the HOF ballot.  

However, the anti-DH faction has been weakening in recent years.  Enshrined in 2004, Paul Molitor served as his team’s DH for nearly half of the games he started.  Last year, Frank Thomas became the first HOFer to DH in the majority of his games played.  

Ortiz is looking to become the first full-time DH to receive baseball’s highest honor.  He has established the standard for designated hitters, collecting more hits, home runs, and RBI than any other DH. His endless late-inning production — including 11 walk-off homers — have made Ortiz one of baseball’s most feared hitters throughout his Red Sox career.  

Ortiz’s Mantle-esque playoff production (a slash line of .295/.409/.553 with 17 homers and 60 RBI) have made him one of the game’s most recognized players.  His postseason success and affable persona has made Big Papi the ultimate fan favorite among Red Sox fans, which reflected by his many memorabilia cards.  His 2013 Topps Tier One Game Used Jersey and 2014 Panini Classics Game Used bat cards, each selling for $15, are great additions to any Red Sox baseball card collections.

Underappreciated Baseball Great Tris Speaker

Tris Speaker was one of the most prolific and underappreciated players in Red Sox history.  Playing in the shadows of Ty Cobb during baseball’s “Dead Ball Era”, Speaker led the Red Sox to World Series championships in 1912 and 1915 and the Indians in 1920 as a player/manager.  The “Grey Eagle” hit for high average, power, and production while eTrisSpeakerT206stablishing the standard for center field defense.   

From deep in the batter’s box, the crouching Speaker held the bat at the hip to ensure greater contact.  He struck out just 220 times during his 22-year career that included 3,514 career hits.  Speaker displayed the strength to hit line drives into the gaps and down both lines, accounting for his still-standing major league record of 792 career doubles.  Speaker batted higher than .350 nine times and higher than .380 five times en route to a .345 career batting average.

Despite the lofty batting statistics, Speaker won just one batting title courtesy of playing in the same era as Cobb, who won 12 batting titles and compiled a .366 career batting average.  Like his career accomplishments, Speaker’s baseball cards pale in comparison to Cobb’s, but are quite impressive in their own right.  Most baseball historians and vintage card collectors consider the 1909-1911 T206 card to be Speaker’s rookie.  The card displays Speaker on the verge of making contact from his unique batting stance.  Decent graded versions sell for as much as $7,500.

The original T206 baseball cards were issued in cigarette and loose tobacco packs through 16 different brands owned by the American Tobacco Co., including the “Ty Cobb” brand.  The set includes the T206 Honus Wagner card, the most valuable and coveted card ever produced.  One of the largest pre-World War I sets ever produced, the series also includes Hall of Famers Speaker, Cobb, Nap Lajoie, Cy Young, Walter Johnson and Christy Mathewson.

Speed and defense also contributed to Speaker’s Hall of Fame career.  He stole 436 bases and hit 222 triples (fifth on the all-time list) during his career.  Speaker is considered the best center fielder of his time and one of the best ever.  Playing in an era when long drives were rare, Speaker played extremely shallow — practically positioned as a fifth infielder — to cut down would be singles and bloop hits.  His trademark play was racing to second base behind a confused or unsuspecting runner for a pick off play.  Speaker is still the all-time leader in putouts and double plays for his position.  He also recorded a record-tying 35 assists for the Red Sox in 1909 and 1912.

The majority of Speaker baseball cards display portrait or batting stance photos.  However, the 1927 Exhibits card is one of the few that feature Speaker in action defensively.  The photo shows Speaker as he awaits a throw, perhaps playing first base.  The 63-card 1927 Exhibit Baseball Set featured a green hue of the black and white images on each card front — a relatively new and unique printing method for the time.  Ungraded versions sell in the $125-$175 range.

Speaker’s unconventional path to centerfield started at a young age. After suffering two broken arms as a teenager, he taught himself to throw right handed.  Despite throwing with his non-dominant arm, Speaker tried to break into professional baseball as a  pitcher.  After being turned down by New York Giants manager John McGraw for a tryout as a pitcher, Speaker went to the Texas League to learn centerfield with the Cleburne Railroaders in his native Texas.

A year later, he was purchased by the Boston Americans (later Red Sox) and became the regular centerfielder, playing alongside Hall of Famer Harry Hooper and defensive whiz Duffy Lewis to form the “Golden Outfield,” which was widely considered one of the best outfields in baseball history.

One of Speaker’s earliest cards with the Red Sox is from the 1910-1911 M116 Sporting Life series.  A four cent investment would get readers of the Sporting Life newspaper a dozen sports cards.  Speaker’s card features a colorized portrait displaying his Red Sox baseball jersey.  Highly graded versions sell in excess of $5,900.

 

 

Andrew Benintendi Is A Hit

Drawing comparisons to Red Sox greats past and present, Andrew Benintendi enters the 2017 season as baseball’s top prospect and a hobby treasure.  The 22-year-old outfielder arrived in the majors just a year after being taken with the No. 7 overall pick in the 2015 MLB Draft. He instantly impressed with spectacular all-around play and remarkable poise during the Red
Sox run to the AL East Division Title.

After dominating every level of the minor leagues and forcing his way onto the Red Sox everyday lineup, Benintendi became an instant hit with baseball card collectors.  His first big-time baseball card, the 2015 Bowman Chrome card issued just months after the draft, sells for $BenintendiBowChrAuto6.  Rare purple refractor versions, limited to a production run of 250, sell for $80 and are on the rise.

Benintendi’s timely hitting and outstanding defense quickly caught the attention of collectors throughout the country. Certified autographed versions of the Bowman Chrome purple refractor card gained momentum over the winter and are currently selling for $405.  Because the full-bled, high, gloss photos are susceptible to dings and damaged corners, PSA-10 versions (the highest possible grade) are extremely rare and have sold for $1,400. The paper, smudge-free, non-chrome versions — ideal for in-person autographs — are readily available for $3.

Benintendi looked like a major leaguer from day one, batting .295 with a .835 OPS in limited play cut short by a knee injury.  With his rookie status still intact after a 34-game introduction to the majors last season, Benintendi looks to become the first Red Sox Rookie of the Year since Dustin Pedroia in 2007.   Benintendi’s true rookie card is from 2017 Topps Series 1,which is selling for $3.  Because the 2015 Bowman Chrome card is part of a Prospects subset, it is not considered a rookie card.

Small in FredLynn75Toppsstature like Pedroia and Mookie Betts, Benintendi fits perfectly on the Red Sox undersized, overpowering lineup. The Red Sox are hopeful Benintendi takes a similar career path as Betts by adding strength and home runs to his repertoire in year two.  Collectors crave game-used memorabilia cards of baseball’s top sluggers. Playing in Boston heightens Benintendi’s popularity. His 2016 Elite Extra Gold Triple Jersey card is available for $15 for the time being.

Benintendi reminds veteran Red Sox fans of Fred Lynn circa 1975.  He has the same smooth, graceful lefthanded swing as Lynn, the first player to take AL Rookie of the Year and MVP honors in the same season.  Like Lynn, Benintendi has the ability to wrap the ball around Pesky’s Pole and drive the ball off and over the leftfield wall.  The Red Sox would be thrilled if Benintendi approaches Lynn’s rookie season production when the 23-year-old centerfielder hit .331 with 21 homers, 105 RBI and slugged .566.  Lynn’s rookie card is a highlight of the 1975 Topps set.  The not-so-pleasant on the eyes orange and yellow framed card is a nice addition to a
ny Red Sox collection for under $10.

Benintendi put himself on the baseball map by hitting .564 with 12 homers and 57 RBI in his senior year at Madeira High School (Ohio).  After being named the ABCA/Rawlings National High School Player of the Year, Benintendi  was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in the 31st round of the 20BenintendiArkansas13 MLB Draft, but opted to refine his baseball skills at the University of Arkansas.  As sophomore with the Razorbacks, Benintendi led the Southeast Conference in batting (.380), home runs (19), and slugging (.715) en route to being named the Baseball America College Player of the Year and receivin
g the Golden Spikes Award as college baseball’s most valuable player.

Highlights from Benintendi’s college career are captured in the 2015 Panini Contenders set.  Action shots of Benintendi in his Razorbacks uniform are available for under $4 with game-used jersey cards selling for $15 and are on the  rise.  Certified autographed Panini Contenders cards of Benintendi in his college uniform is selling for $60, while limited versions serial numbered to 23 sell for $190 on eBay.

 

 

1959 Fleer Ted Williams Baseball Card Set: As Splendid As The Splinter

When Fleer entered the baseball card business 58 years ago, the first-year sports card manufacturer turned to the greatest hitter who ever lived.  Ted Williams not only established new slugging standards, he also changed the way the sports collectibles hobby was marketed.

During this era, Topps was the exclusive baseball card manufacturer, so Fleer — the only other major trading card producer at the time — had to take a more creative approach with its prWilliams52F#2oducts. Facing the daunting task of going head to head with the mighty Topps Co., Fleer, a longtime bublegum manufacturer, signed Ted Williams away from Topps. The result was 1959 Fleer “Life of Ted Williams” — an 80-card series capturing a medley of snippets detailing Williams’s legendary career.

One of the more popular cards of the set (#2) pictures Ted in his Red Sox uniform gripping a bat with his idol, Babe Ruth. The card back chronicles Ted’s time at Horace Mann Junior High School in California. Card #5 details Ted’s brilliant high school career for Herbert Hoover High School (San Diego, California). He was considered one of the top amateur players in California, drawing the attention of big league scouts.

Card #14 highlights his amazing rookie season (1939) in which he became the first AL rookie to lead the league in total bases. A favorite among collectors is card #41, which displays a head shot of Williams above the title “1941 — How Ted Hit .400”. The card back discusses how Ted played both games of a doubleheader on the last day of the season to raise his average from .400 to .406.

The Fleer set also features Ted’s distinguished military career. Card #24 titled “1945 — Sharpshooter” shows a concerned, but anxious Williams taking the Naval eye test. According to the card back, “Navy doctors said that eyesight like Ted’s occurred only six times per thousand persons.”
Williams52F#41
This set includes three of the hobby’s hardest-to-find All-Star cards. Card #34 pictures Williams sliding into second base in the 1947 All-Star Game. The card back details the new runs scored record established by Williams that year.

Card #40 shows Williams crashing against the wall to make a spectacular catch in the 1950 All-Star Game at Comiskey Park. The card back tells the story of how the catch destroyed the Red Sox Pennant hopes and nearly ended Ted’s career. Williams didn’t realize that he had broken his elbow and gamely played for 8 more innings, hitting a single and driving in a run.

Card #48 features Marine Captain Ted Williams throwing out the first ball and serving as an honorary member of the AL team at the 1953 All-Star Game in Cincinnati while still serving on military duty. The card back expressively reads, “Not only was he a baseball hero of the finest magnitude, but he was in two wars within the short span of one decade.”

The Williams set successfully put Fleer on the sports collectibles map, but not without incident. Card #68 pictures Ted preparing to sign a contract with Red Sox general manager Bucky Harris, who was one of the handful of baseball executives under contract with Topps at the time. Rather than face a lawsuit from Topps, Fleer withdrew card #68 by defacing the lower right corner of the card on the printing sheet, and then destroying the cards after they were cut from the sheet. A very limited amount of mint #68 cards were packaged before Fleer started its disfiguring process, making this one of the most sought-after Williams cards.
Williams52F#68
The back of the Harris card reveals just how much times have changed: “Ted signed his 1959 contract in Boston for a reported $125,000. He has been baseball’s highest paid player for several years.”

This affordable set details the extraordinary career of the legendary Ted Williams. Much of the history written about the Splendid Splinter came directly from the backs of these cards. Every card — except the Harris card, which commands $1,000 — can be found on eBay in decent condition
for under $25.

Red Sox Roll The Dice With Chris Sale and David Price

When I first heard that an ace Red Sox lefthander was heading to see Dr. James Andrews, I assumed the  absolute worse: Chris Sale’s left elbow had succumbed to the violent, herky-jerky motion that causes so many swings and misses, but appears to put tremendous stress on the elbow.  The trade that depleted the once fertile Red Sox farm system all for naught.

Fortunately, Sale’s elbow was not in question. It was David Price’s elbow that was cause for concern following a two-inning simulated game.  Fortunately, Price’s pain appears to be — as of now — muscular in nature, not structural.

Why did I assume it was Sale with the bum elbow?  The whipping side-arm delivery combined with a slender frame is often cause for concern. The high-elbow, low shoulder mechanics that make Sale so effective puts tremendous stress on the elbow, which can cause a torn ligament, which leads to visits to Dr. Andrews’ office, which often leads to season-endinChrisSaleg Tommy John surgery.

The White Sox were always aware of the warning signs, but never tampered with Sale’s unconventional pitching mechanics. White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper observed that most pitchers with pitching styles comparable to Sale stood more upright, causing the elbow to take the brunt of the stress.  Sale comes down a bit lower with his entire body, putting added pressure on the legs while relieving stress from the elbow.

The White Sox projection has been on the money to date.  Their former ace has landed on the disabled list only once in his seven-year career with a strained flexor muscle in his left arm.  The injury came one start after throwing 127 pitches, coincidentally, against the Red Sox in 2014.  An MRI revealed no ligament damage.

After sacrificing Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech, two of baseball’s top prospects, among others to land Sale, the Red Sox have obviously bought into the White Sox prognosis.  Deception is a key ingredient to Sale’s success, so the Red Sox have no plans to change Sale’s arm slot.  He has proved to be durable throughout his career, so the Red Sox are willing to take a calculated risk.

As for Price, health has never been an issue and durability has always been a strength.  A smooth, flawless pitching motion seems to put minimal stress on his elbow, but a heavy workload may be catching up to Price.  The 31-year-old southpaw has logged 200+ inning in six of the last seven seasons.  He has thrown 698 ⅔ innings over the past three seasons, more than any other pitcher in baseball and mind boggling considering bullpen use in today’s baseball.  Perhaps an ailing arm has be been in the offing for the last few years, before he arrived in Boston.

The Red Sox are hopeful that Price’s elbow remains structurally sound.  Hopeful that rest and medication to reduce the swelling are the cure with no long-lasting effects.  Hopeful that he continues to be the workhorse that championship-driven teams crave.  Hopeful that he is past the first-season in Boston jitters.  In what was arguably Price’s worse season, he won 17 games while leading the league in strikeouts (230) and innings pitched (35).  He played a key role in the Red Sox first place American League East finish.

The Red Sox are taking calculated risks on two left-handed aces who came to Boston at a high price in terms of money and future holdings.  A calculated roll of the dice in what should prove to be a fascinating season.

Happy Birthday Babe Ruth

Happy Birthday to baseball legend and American icon Babe Ruth, born on February 6, 1895.

The discussion of two-way baseball players starts and ends with Babe Ruth.   In the years before the infamous sale that sent Ruth from Boston to New York, the man known as the “Sultan of Swat” was baseball’s premier left-handed pitcher. Ruth would later become the most prolific hitter in baseball history.

Before his powerful uppercut swing made home runs relevant and transformed baseball into an offensive game, the full-time pitching ace and part-time slugger led the Red Sox to three

baberuth1914frederickfoto

Babe Ruth 1914 Frederick Foto baseball card.

World Series Championships. Ruth put together a 94-46 career record with nearly all of his pitching appearances coming in a Red Sox uniform. His 2.28 ERA is 17th lowest in baseball history.

The Babe found his place on the pitcher’s mound at the St. Mary’s Industrial School, a boys’ reformatory school.  He developed his craft with the Baltimore Orioles of the International League under owner and manager Jack Dunn, who signed the 19-year-old southpaw to his first professional contract in 1914.  The first Ruth baseball card was included in the 1914 Baltimore News series.  Issued with red or blue fronts and black variation backs, the card displays a gangly teenager yet to make his major league debut.  A red PSA-1 version of the Ruth rookie sold at auction for $450,300 last year.

Struck with financial hardship due to the emergence of the Baltimore Terrapins of the short-lived Federal League, the Orioles unloaded Ruth, Ernie Shore and Ben Egan to the Red Sox for $16,000 later that year.  Pitching behind established hurlers Smokey Joe Wood and Dutch Leonard among others, Ruth was used sparingly.  But in 1915, he went 18-8 as the team’s third starter and helped the Red Sox to the AL Pennant.

In 1916, Ruth emerged as a dominant pitcher, winning 21 games while tossing nine shutouts and posting a league-best 1.75 ERA.  Helping the Red Sox to back-to-back World Series championships, Ruth pitched 14 innings for a 2-1 Game 2 victory over the Brooklyn Robins.

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Babe Ruth 1914 Baltimore News baseball card.

 

Still considered a top-notch pitcher, Ruth returned in 1917 with a 24-13 record and 2.01 ERA.  He finished 35 of the 38 games he started.  At the same time, Ruth’s offensive prowess was taking shape.  He finished the season batting .325, triggering an eight-year streak of hitting .300 or better.

Already an established pitching ace, Ruth’s transformation to iconic slugger hit full stride in 1918.  Primarily an outfielder, Ruth led the league in homers with 11, earning his first of 12 home run titles.  Appearing in 20 games as a pitcher, he went 13-7 with a 2.22 ERA.   The Babe pitched a 1-0 shutout in Game 1 of the World Series and won Game 4, as he established a 29 ⅓ scoreless innings streak, eclipsed by Whitey Ford decades later.

The Babe made 17 appearances on the mound in 1919, going 9-5 with a 2.97 ERA, but by this time pitching was merely a diversion for the future Hall of Fame slugger-to-be.  Ruth led the league in home runs (29), RBI (114) and runs (103).  Following the 1919 season, the Yankees purchased Babe Ruth the slugger, not the ace pitcher from financially-strapped Red Sox owner Harry Frazee for $100,000.

Ruth’s Red Sox-Yankees overlap is highlighted in his 1914 Frederick Foto card.  The unique card displaying a photo-quality image, pictures the Babe in a red Sox uniform, but reads “Babe Ruth N.Y.” in the upper left-hand corner.

In his first season with the Yankees Ruth set a new standard with 54 home runs, effectively introducing America to a new brand of baseball emphasizing power and brawn over speed and savbaberuth1962toppsvy.  Putting Ruth’s 1920 season in perspective: No other player hit more than 19 home runs and only one team hit more homers than Ruth did individually.

Laying the groundwork for what would become the Yankee Dynasty, Ruth’s 1921 season may have been the greatest in MLB history. The 26-year-old Ruth batted .376 while bashing 59 homers, driving in 171 runs, scoring 177 runs, and slugging a then-unthinkable .846. Riding Ruth’s prowess as a slugger, the Yankees became baseball’s most recognizable — not to mention most dominant — team, establishing new attendance records almost annually.

He eventually raised the bar to 60 round-trippers in 1927, a record that would stand for 34 years.  The Babe’s contribution to baseball was almost as significant as his contribution to the New York Yankees.  The new stadium built to house a growing fan base was quickly dubbed “The House That Ruth Built.”

Prior to Ruth wearing pinstripes, the Yankees neverwon a title of any sort.  In his 15 years in New York, the Yankees captured seven AL Pennants and four World Series titles.  Most baseball historians consider the 1927 Yankees to be the best team in baseball history.

Ruth returned to Boston in 1935 to play his final season with the Braves, hitting six homers to bump his career total to 714.  The Bambino held an amazing 56 major league records at the time of his retirement — including most career home runs.  In 1936 the newly formed Baseball Hall of Fame elected Babe Ruth as one of its five original inductees.  More than 75 years after his retirement, Ruth remains one of baseball’s first and America’s greatest icons.

The complete history of the Babe can be found in the 1962 “Babe Ruth Special” subset, which captures significant moments from his life and career, beginning with “Babe as a Boy” (#135) and ending with “Babe’s Farewell Speech”.  The special 10-card subset was issued one year after Roger Maris eclipsed the Babe’s single-season home run record.  Most of the cards can be found in good – very good condition for $8-$15.

A Place For Edgar Martinez And The DH In The Hall of Fame

The designated hitter is an actual position that has been debated, discussed, probed, and prodded since the 1890s.  Since the inception of the American League position 44 years ago, the DH has served it’s purpose ably: enhancing offense, while increasing fan interest.  Each year, the best DH  is honored with the Edgar Martinez Outstanding Designated Hitter Award.  Somehow, the player who established the benchmark for excellence at the position has been kept out of the Hall of Fame and has just two remaining years of eligibility — a slight to one the finest hitters baseball has ever seen and to the position as a whole.  

Martinez did not become a full-time player until the age of 27, which limited his career hit total to 2,247 and home run total to just 309, well short of top sluggers from his era.  But looking deeper into the numbers, we discover that Martinez was actually one of the top and most consistent sluggers of his time — or any time period — culminating an 18-year career with an eye-popping .418 on-base percentage and .933 OPS.  Jayson Stark of ESPN describes Martinez as one of the “greatest hitters of his generation.”

Martinez was just one of eight players to have 300 home runs, 500 doubles, a career batting average above .300, a career OBP above .400, and a career slugging percentage above .500.  He is also one of six players to hit at least .320 for six consecutive seasons  alongside Stan Musial, Wade Boggs, Rod Carew, Tony Gwynn, and  Todd Helton.  All but Helton are in the Hall.

Sports edgarmartinezIllustrated’s Jay Jaffe, who spends endless hours crunching numbers to evaluate Hall of Fame candidates, says Martinez is one of the top 30 or 40 hitters of all time.  Martinez outdistanced David Ortiz in career WAR 68.3 too 55.4.  Most consider fellow DH Ortiz a clear cut Hall of Famer, steroid issues aside.  Martinez is one of 25 players with at least eight seasons with OPS+ greater than 150.  All who are eligible and not connected to steroids are in the Hall of Fame except two: Dick Allen and Martinez.  He also has the fourth best career OPS (.933) among right-handed hitters in the modern era … And still not enough Hall of Fame votes.

The anti-DH faction among baseball writers has weakened over the years, but is still clearly present.  There are several players who have appeared extensively as a DH already in the Hall, including Carl Yastrzemski, Reggie Jackson, Dave Winfield and Jim Rice.  But most of these players played the majority of their games at other positions — usually first base or outfield.

Elected in 2004, Paul Molitor served as his team’s DH for nearly 44 percent of the games he started.  Two years ago, Frank Thomas became the first HOFer to DH in the majority of his games played.  Martinez played DH for 71% of the games he started.  If Martinez is not elected before his expiration date, Ortiz will likely become the first almost-full-time DH to receive baseball’s highest honor.  Ortiz collected more hits, home runs, and RBI than any other DH.

The designated hitter first proposed during the 1890s as the designated pinch hitter. Connie Mack took credit for the idea in 1906. NL owners actually approved the DH rule in December 1928, but were ironically overruled by their AL cohorts. In 1940, the Bushrod League, a California winter circuit, adopted the DH. In 1969 the International League experimented with the DH for a year.

After nearly eight decades of debate between league presidents, owners, and players, the American League finally approved the DH before the 1973 season. On April 6, Ron Blomberg, became major league baseball’s first designated hitter when he drew a first-inning, bases loaded walk from Luis Tiant on a cold, windy Opening Day at Fenway Park.

A pulled hamstring forced the 24-year-old first baseman to his new position. If Matty Alou, batting third for the Yankees, didn’t stroke a two-out double in the first inning, the Red Sox Orlando Cepeda, the first player signed specifically for DH duty, would have made the history books.  Although the Red Sox won the game 15-5, Cepeda, the prototype DH, went 0-for-6, the only Red Sox starter to go hitless.

AL owners hoped the DH would increase offense, give aging sluggers the chance to extend their years of productivity, and increase attendance. The three-year experiment worked. AL teams were scoring more runs, league attendance rose from 11.4 million to 13.4 million, and older stars were extending their careers.

Cepeda was exactly what the AL owners had in mind when they adopted the DH. The 35-year-old former first baseman entered the season with bad knees and 358 career home runs, and had driven in over 100 runs five times in his career.

In 1973, Cepeda played all of his 142 games at DH for the Red Sox, hitting 20 homers and 86 RBI — excellent power numbers for the time — winning the first Associated Press Designated Hitter Award.

The DH helped sluggers such as Cepeda, the 1958 NL Rookie of the Year with the Giants and the 1967 MVP with the Cardinals, achieve Hall of Fame status. Cepeda, elected by the Veterans Committee in 1999, finished his career with 379 home runs (21 as a DH) and 1,365 RBI.

The DH is now widely accepted and used in some form in most leagues from high school to the majors. The final hurdle to its acceptance as an actual position may be a deservedly wider presence in the Hall of Fame.