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Tuesday, May 19, 2009
By Mike DeNero
My friend says I am obsessed with Harvey Haddix, but I don’t think he’s right. However, as I put pen to paper, and somehow simultaneously read the trailing lines of my composition, I realize that if I truly protest my friend’s opinion, I would have written that he’s dead wrong. But I didn’t. Thus, the realist in me is compelled to question whether I have crossed that delicate boundary between healthy curiosity and obsession.
But, if obsession is the appropriate descriptive term for my level of curiosity, I believe that there must also exist varying levels of obsession. Regardless, like Benjamin Franklin said of rebellion, a healthy obsession, every now and then, can be a good thing. Suffice it to say, I have been telling people for weeks that we were fast approaching the 50th anniversary of the greatest game ever pitched – that anniversary is today, May 26, 2009. And as you might have guessed, Harvey Haddix pitched that game.
Harvey Haddix is not a member of baseball’s hall of fame. His 136-113 career record and 3.63 E.R.A. does not merit induction in Cooperstown. But, he was a three time All Star who also won three Gold Glove Awards and two games in the 1960 World Series (including Game 7) to lead his Pittsburgh Pirates over the aging New York Yankees – the later accomplishment is overshadowed by Bill Mazeroski’s walk-off home run to win the series.
But despite a successful fourteen-year career in the big leagues, which began in 1952 with the St. Louis Cardinals, Haddix is viewed as one of the baseball’s tragic figures because on the evening of May 26, 1959, he pitched twelve perfect innings … and was tagged with the loss!
Harvey Haddix, suffering from flu-like symptoms, and his Pirates teammates arrived in Milwaukee that afternoon. Later that night, he would face a stacked Milwaukee Braves lineup, featuring Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, and a fellow named Joe Adcock. Lew Burdette took the mound for the Braves.
During the first twelve innings, Haddix retired all thirty-six batters he faced. He needed only 102 pitches and was never behind in the count on a single Braves hitter. His “perfect game” after nine innings was, for the moment, the eighth pitched in the history of Major League Baseball and only the first in the National League since 1880 (nearly eighty years prior).
But as the scoreless duel between Haddix and Burdette reached the bottom of the 13th inning, Braves leadoff hitter Felix Mantilla made it safely to first base on a throwing error by Pirates third baseman Don Hoak, ruining the perfect game but leaving the no-hitter intact. After he walked Hank Aaron intentionally, Haddix served up a three-run homer to Braves slugger Joe Adcock.
And that’s the story. As Haddix's pitching opponent that night, Lew Burdette, has said throughout his life, “the greatest game ever pitched I won, but I didn’t pitch it.”
History has painted Harvey Haddix as a tragic figure. But why? Because seventeen perfect games have been pitched in Major League Baseball history and due to the current definition of “perfect game” in MLB’s Rulebook -- a game in which a pitcher (or pitchers) pitches a victory that lasts a minimum of nine innings and in which no opposing player reaches base – Haddix’s feat is not counted as one of the seventeen.
So what? Haddix’s feat is widely viewed as the greatest game ever pitched, and it is probably the second most famous pitching performance in history behind Don Larsen’s perfect game in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series. Isn’t the recognition of being the man who tossed the best game in baseball’s history an accomplishment of greater magnitude than appearing on a list with seventeen other perfect game tossers?
So, as we celebrate Harvey Haddix’s feat today, fifty years later, don’t pity him. Harvey was a winner in the truest sense of the word. He never moped. In fact, he took it well. For example, the day after he pitched his masterpiece, he received a telegram from a fraternity that read: Dear Harvey, Tough S---!” Haddix stated that although the message disturbed him at first, he "thought about it for a few minutes and decided: Yeah. That says it all.”[i]
Mine is not an obsession. It is simply admiration. Not just for the pitching performance, but more for how he reacted to the so-called “tough luck.” In John McCollister’s Tales From the Pirates Dugout, there appears a wonderful black and white photograph taken sometime after May 26, 1959. Haddix is standing on the steps of a dugout firmly shaking Joe Adcock's hand. Adcock towers over the diminutive 5’ 9” Haddix. The players are smiling widely at one another; Adcock actually might be chuckling.
I look forward to the day that my sons are old enough for me to show them the photograph. Harvey Haddix and I will teach them one of life’s great lessons – respecting your opponent means you are willing to embrace him and celebrate his accomplishments, especially when he beats you.
[i] John McCollister, Tales From the Pirates Dugout (Sports Publishing LLC, 2003), 74.
Copyright © 2009 Mike DeNero's Vintage Sportscards, LLC. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.
By Keith Weinhold
Forward by Mike DeNero- The following article was written by one of our favorite customers, Mr. Keith Weinhold, a Phillies and Eagles fan transplanted from Pennsylvania all the way to Anchorage, Alaska. While many of you are already familiar with the PSA and SGC Registries, we urge you to read Keith’s article for one simple reason: Keith is a reborn collector who recently rediscovered our wonderful hobby. As such, Keith’s prose exudes (oozes?) an unrestrained enthusiasm for, among other things, discovering rookie gems. While many of you have owned for many years some of the cards on which Keith focuses in his article, perhaps reading it will allow you to rediscover those in your own collection that may be lying dormant as you search for the next rarity, which, we might add, is another noble pursuit. Enjoy!
I was 18 years old in 1991, and it felt like the sportscard apocalypse was upon us. Tons of companies and product were flooding the market, cluttering the simple Topps, Fleer, and Donruss landscape that I was raised on. Besides, now I was off to start college and my mind was on what girl would move into the dorm room next to me rather than Don Mattingly rookie cards. Sportscards weren’t cool anymore – and seemed to be spiraling to worthless back then as card shops were asking for one-third of book price while collectors spoke of card overpopulation.
Well, I had no idea about the advent of professional grading in sportscards – and coincidentally, its genesis came in 1991 when I got out of cards. These third-party companies authenticate, grade, then finally encapsulate an owner’s cards in tamper-evident holders. Then, look at this, the cards that I dreamed of as an ‘80s kid are all for sale in online marketplaces! There’s a T206 Ty Cobb tobacco card, a 1958 Jim Brown rookie card – you mean I can own these now? Also, some of these cards that I previously thought of as “overpopulated,” like a Ryne Sandberg or John Elway rookie, are actually scarce and highly desirable in PSA Gem Mint 10 condition.
Soon I was embracing this new way of buying cards remotely, all with confidence in professional grading. This year, I “discovered” Set Registries. How cool is this? I can log onto the grading companies’ websites, enter the certification number from the card’s holder, and voila! My collection can be ranked against others, and the whole world can see my cards. I can conveniently view my uploaded card scans in my collection securely from anywhere – even my office desk at work…uh, not like anyone has ever done that.
As a reborn collector, my interests have oscillated across an arc. One place the interest has settled is in PSA’s Pro Football Hall Of Fame Rookies Set – every football HOF player’s rookie card comprises this 199-card set. As I acquire new cards, PSA uses attributes assigned to each card’s certification number based on it’s value (e.g., a Bart Starr has greater weight than a Thurman Thomas), and the condition of my particular card to give an overall rank my set.
What a worthwhile set to pursue! Beginning with the earliest cards, the 1933 Goudey Sport Kings Red Grange exhibits a simple design, highlighted by Grange’s striped numberless jersey and maskless helmet above silhouetted players on a field. The bright colors of the 1935 National Chicle football rookie cards provide a historical reminder that footballers played multiple positions then – the cards of halfbacks Clark Hinkle and Ken Strong are shown placekicking. Of course, the ’35 Chicles include “The Holy Grail Of Football Cards,” Bronko Nagurski - a vintage antiquity where highly graded examples have crossed a family heirloom threshold.
Post-war, card production resumed with Bowman’s black-and-white set released in 1948. Three cards from the set have made their way into the Football HOF Rookies Set. Bowman’s colored counterparts - 1948 Leaf cards – claim a whopping 6% of the set. These slabs are often cut off-centered and can suffer bleeding problems, yet their popularity is undiminished as they include twelve legendary figures such as Sid Luckman, Doak Walker, Steve Van Buren, Sammy Baugh, and Chuck Bednarik.
The 1950, 1951, and 1952 Bowman cards are well-represented Football Hall Of Fame rookies, and building around these comely pasteboard gems is what lured me into the set. It’s remarkable that in the early ‘50s, when football was not the most popular sport in America and in fact baseball was living its Golden Age, that the Bowman Chewing Gum Company would sculpt such remarkable cardboard football masterpieces. Their efforts culminate with the 1951 Bowman #4 Norm Van Brocklin card. Azure hues fade from this card’s edges into the center of the card, where it looks like “The Flying Dutchman” Van Brocklin is peering down the field to throw to one of his two fellow Hall Of Fame receivers, Elroy Hirsch and Tom Fears (Hirsch and Fears belong to this set as 1950 Bowman cards). The Van Brocklin is accentuated with a goldenrod color, and check the mega-cool Rams logo. Additionally, Bowman used a thick, enduring paper stock.
In addition to the Van Brocklin, brilliant color and composition are displayed on other cards in this set from the era. The 1951 Bowman Arnie Weinmeister and Emlen Tunnell, and the 1952 Bowman Ollie Matson are examples with such great visual appeal that they transcend mere cardboard rectangles and are virtually miniature works of art. Their attractiveness effervesces to other period pieces to the extent where I’ve considering registration in a 1951 or 1952 Bowman Football Registry.
The 1955 Topps All-American issue, Topps’ first foray into continuous football card production, features college greats. This Football HOF Rookies Registry Set adopts the seven “AAs” that also became Pro HOFers, highlighted by Ernie Nevers and Don Hutson. Six cards from Topps’ two-paneled 1957 set qualify for inclusion – and they’re guys that you might have heard of - Dick “Night Train” Lane, Bart Starr, Johnny Unitas, and Paul Hornung. These ‘57s show the player in both an action pose and portrait image – with two different background colors. The behemoth card to round out the ‘50s is unequivocally the 1958 Topps #62 Jimmy Brown card. This joint is the bizz-omb, yo. Is that what the kids are saying these days? Anyway, the greatest rusher of all-time appears in an unforgettable slashing run pose, centered inside a black-ringed oval.
The 1962, 1963, and 1965 Topps issues are the best designs of their decade, unlike their uninspiring counterparts from the Philadelphia Chewing Gum Company. The Topps issues include historically important and visually handsome cards from 1962 including Mike Ditka and Fran Tarkenton, 1963 Topps Ray Nitschke, and an iconic football card image, that of one “Broadway” Joe Namath on his 1965 Topps card, #122. The latter is an enormously popular card with strong price appreciation potential, yet is often found in lower grade and suffers from tilt cuts.
Once a competitive Set Registry collector embraces ‘70s cards, a PSA Mint 9 is nearly a prerequisite for a high rank, and a PSA Gem Mint 10 the standard for ‘80s cards. The more desirable cards from these decades are the 1971 Terry Bradshaw (with hair), 1972 Roger Staubach, 1984 John Elway. Not even a relatively high population of 1981 Joe Montanas (over 1,000 in PSA 9 alone) can erode the popularity of “Joe Cool” Montana rookies. Some entries from the defunct USFL comprise the Set Composite.
The best thing about this Set Registry is that it turns a static collection kept in a closet into a dynamic, interactive, displayed one. Cards come to life. I can use it as a way to show off what I have, add scans, leave comments about each of my cards, and allow visitors to share their comments about my set as well. There’s even a lively Message Board just for this Set Registry on PSA’s Website. I can be as competitive as I want to be. Currently my set ranks a pedestrian 27th out of 89 active sets, yet a lot changes here. In fact, if I don’t add any cards, I’ll probably be out of the Top 30 next month. This Registry feels like it’s “where the action is”. I never knew that collecting could be so much fun again.
*** To view Keith’s PSA’s Pro Football Hall Of Fame Rookies Set on the PSA Registry, click here. He invites you to leave your comments. ***Copyright © 2009 Keith Weinhold and Mike DeNero's Vintage Sportscards, LLC. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.