Friday, July 08, 2011

I Like Baseball Cards

You remember them, those cardboard pieces of gold from the 80's and 90's that you thought was going to pay for your children's college education. Who needs 401k when you have a vintage Rick Ankiel rookie card?

I never collected them for the money or gave much thought to what they were worth. I still to this day collect cards from my youth, but I use them to teach the game and the history to
my children more than I do to hopefully find something magical in that foil wrapper.

I tend to go to flea markets, card shops, yard sales, and anywhere else I can find a bargain. Got a box of 10,000 common cards that you have no idea what to do with and are tired of looking at? That's where I thrive. I'll drop minimal cash ($20-$30) for these pictures of my youth captured in thin cardboard and stained with a piece of gum that might have contained less nutritional value than the card itself.

It wasn't all that long ago that I did just this. I went by a local flea market with two of my boys in tow and purchased a flat of cards that the vendor was more than happy to see disappear from his stand. The seller figured he ju
st made $25 that he thought he would never see and I found a box of treasures to share with my kids.

That night, we sat at the kitchen table and started thumbing through them. I found cards of favorite players, specific memories, and of my favorite team (the St. Louis Cardinals). I shared various stories with them about the players, their interactions with the fans, and their careers. That is when I pulled out the card that made the whole lot worth the purchase.

I pulled out a Ron Hassey card and held it for the boys to see. I explained that this card featured my favorite player of my lifetime.

My oldest turned the card over to find statistics that he did not understand. You see, Hassey was a 14 year veteran of major league baseball, a catcher, and a journeyman. He never hit well, very seldom was the featured player on his team, had a career hi
gh 13 home runs in 1985, and was most likely forgotten by people that watched him play.

The look on his face was utter confusion. Why would this be my favorite player?

The answer to that question is as simple and as complex as my love of this game. In my mind, his career and his ability epitomized what I thought this game was all about.

His focus was on defense and managing his pitching staff. He threw out 31% of would be basestealers in his career. He carried a career catcher's ERA of 3.87. In 1991, his final season on an active roster, as a member of the Montreal Expos he was the oldest player in Major League Baseball. He spent time on six different rosters in the course of his career.

Still wonder why I liked him? Don't worry, so did my son.

It is Ron Hassey that suggests that maybe there is more to this game than the stats you can find online or on the back of a baseball card. There is more to the story of a player than what can be accessed quickly or summarized on three inches of cardboard. There is more to this wonderful game than numbers or pitches or even wins and losses.

On May 15, 1981, Hassey would take the field in Cleveland, Ohio. Hassey
would go one for four that day with a base hit in the bottom of the first inning that would be his team, the Indians, up 2-0. Obviously, Hassey wasn't the story as his battery mate, Len Barker, would take the mound and face exactly twenty seven Toronto Blue Jays, retiring them all in a perfect game.

If there was a theme to Hassey's career, it would probably be the trade. Hassey was involved in five trades in his career, but most remarkable would be what would happen between the end of the 1985 season and the trading deadline in 1986. During this time period, Hassey would be traded from the Yankees to the White Sox on December 12, 1985; from the White Sox to the Yankees on February 13, 1986; and finally from the Yankees to the White Sox on July 30, 1986. Moved in various package deals, three trades between two teams would involve the catcher.

It was 1991 when Hassey would make the mark on baseball that made me research him, collect his cards, and study his dedication to the game.

That year would be the final year of Hassey's career and he would go north of the border to Canada for one more year with the boys of summer. He would only play in 52 games that season, amassing a measly .227 batting average and scrapping out 14 runs batted in. It was the end of the line for the veteran, but the magic of the baseball gods would find him once again.

On July 28, 1991, Hassey would take the field with battery mate and MLB's first Nicaraguan-born player, Dennis Martinez. The Expos would take on the Dodgers that day in Los Angeles and Hassey would go one for three with a single. Hassey would reach on an error in the seventh inning scoring Larry Walker, though not getting credit for a run batted in due to the error. Walker had previously reached on an RBI triple scoring Martinez.

Those two runs would be all Martinez would need that day, as he would cruise through the Dodgers' lineup in perfect fashion. Twenty seven batters would come up and twenty seven would be retired, marking a perfect game for the Expos' right hander.

There it was, ten years apart from each other, but that was the moments that would define the catcher's career. Ron Hassey would go down in history as the only catcher in Major League history to be on the receiving end of two perfect games.

Moments like these remind so many of us about the poetry that is the game of baseball. It captures the mind, it produces the memories and the soundtracks that dominate our memories, and it draws the attention of young and old alike.

As my children and I dig through more baseball cards and I share more stories and memories with them, I look forward to sharing the moments with our readers and fans. After all you, you can never truly get enough, so we'll just keep dishing up More Hardball.

Bill Ivie runs and drops some tweets on Twitter from time to time. He is a baseball historian and a self-proclaimed g33k.


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