Saturday, 24 January 2009

Gary Gaetti and the Triple Play

1995 Topps #353 Gary Gaetti
Who holds the record for the most triple plays started by a third baseman? If you didn't already know, you can probably correctly guess it's Gary Gaetti with 7. But I'll get back to that in a moment.

On May 15, 1994 the Kansas City Royals retired George Brett's number 5 during a pre-game ceremony. I was living in Kansas City at the time and was able to see many of George Brett's final games. That next spring I made the short trek to Kauffman Stadium to witness a bit of Royals history, to see George Brett one last time. Of course I stayed for the game and got to witness something that borders on amazing unless you know a bit of the background.

In the third inning, with runners on first and second with nobody out Geronimo Berroa hit a sharp grounder right down the third base line which was snared by Gaetti who fired to Terry Shumpert at second who relayed the throw to Wally Joyner at first for a routine double play. But wait, the Royals are running off the field - it wasn't a double play at all - it was a TRIPLE PLAY! When Gaetti came up with the ball, he was already positioned on third base for the first out, it just happened so fast I hadn't noticed initially.

After the game I remember an interview with Gaetti stating that whenever there were runners on first and second with nobody out, he played on the third base line LOOKING FOR THE PERFECT GROUNDER TO START A TRIPLE PLAY! When he scoops up the ball, he doesn't have to go far to get the force out which allows enough time to complete the throw to second. Gary Gaetti played every game of his career looking for a triple play! Just how effective was Gaetti at getting the elusive triple play? Between 1982 and 1994 there were 25 triple plays in the major leagues started by third basemen - seven of which were initiated by none other than Gary Gaetti. In other words, 28% of all triple plays started by third basemen (and 14% of ALL triple plays total) during that time period were a result of Gary Gaetti hugging the third base line looking for the opportunity. In fact, on July 17, 1990, Gary Gaetti was able to perform the feat TWICE in one game - something that had never been accomplished before and has never been repeated.

Two years later and Gaetti was granted free agency and his Royals days were over. The next time I got to see him play was in the 1996 NLCS when Gaetti was playing for the Cardinals. Batting fifth, he put the Cardinals ahead for good in the 7th inning when he hit a grand slam -- the first and only grand slam Greg Maddux had ever given up spanning his entire career up to that point.

I don't really have the words to describe Gaetti's style adequately, but that pretty much sums up how intense he approached the game. Perhaps I'll leave you with perhaps the strangest, tackiest website ever dedicated to a Major League Baseball player (and I mean that in the nicest way possible). It's just one of those oddities that make the internet the place that it is and is how I started thinking about Gary Gaetti again a decade after he retired. So without further ado, let me present the The Gary Gaetti Cult

Once you have recovered enough from that, here is a list of all the triple plays since 1876 involving third basemen, and in which Gary Gaetti plays such a disproportionate part.

Whatever happened to Gary Gaetti? From
Since retiring as a player, Gaetti coached in the minors with the New Orleans Zephyrs from 2002 to 2004. From 2004 to 2006, he was the Houston Astros hitting coach. Following the 2006 season, Gaetti was named hitting coach of the Durham Bulls. Gaetti's son, Joe, played baseball for NC State and now plays in the Colorado Rockies farm system.

I think I am going to start something new on my blog. Whenever I feature a player on "Whatever happened to..." I am going to try to track down that player's current status and try to get an autographed card. I won't disclose his current address, but if I have success I'll let you know...

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Topps Checklists

Interesting to note that there is no place on the internet one place on the internet that I am aware of that has all of the Topps checklists. In fact, just finding one usable checklist is extremely hard. I am slowly compiling on my blog what I have found so far, but if anyone has a file with any of the Topps checklists 1988-2006, (done!) that would be extremely helpful. You can email me at toppsbaseball at My goal is have all of the base set checklists under one roof. We will see how easy that turns out to be. Amazing that it hasn't already been done somewhere. I will also go on record that the website is more than a bit useless when it comes to checklists. You would think the site might be a bit more useful friendly and navigable, but what do I know...

Here is what I have so far:

2008 Topps Checklist
2007 Topps Checklist
2006 Topps Checklist
1985 Topps Checklist
1984 Topps Checklist
1983 Topps Checklist
1982 Topps Checklist
1981 Topps Checklist
1980 Topps Checklist
1979 Topps Checklist
1978 Topps Checklist
1977 Topps Checklist
1976 Topps Checklist
1975 Topps Checklist

Also, just found a few emails from a few people wandering by my new blog. Thanks for the support so far. I've added a couple of links to their blogs

Wait 'Til Next Year


1988 Score

Now back to sorting...

Monday, 19 January 2009

Whatever happened to...

Bob Hamelin. Anyone remember Bob Hamelin? I'll give you a hint. Think Joe Charboneau. Getting warmer? Bob Hamelin won the 1994 AL Rookie Of The Year while playing for the Royals. While it isn't uncommon for a former ROY to have a mediocre follow-up campaign, few flame out as fast and as spectacularly as "The Hammer" (and he couldn't have had a better nickname!)

The 1994 Royals were a great team - they ended 1994 on a 14 game win streak that was only stopped by the player's strike that ended up canceling the entire postseason including the World Series. They were four games out of first place and gaining momentum. Besides the AL ROY in Hamelin, they also had the AL Cy Young Award winner David Cone anchoring their pitching staff and a fantastic infield (Gaetti, Gagne, Lind, and Joyner around the bases). It was the last time I ever looked at the Royals as a legitimate contender.

I liked all the players on that team, but none more than their 26 year old rookie phenom Bob Hamelin. I kind of viewed him as a modern incarnation of Babe Ruth - the same chunky build, the same swing, both left-handed. He looked more beer-league than major league and he wore glasses.

I saw him play several times and remember a game sometime in July of 2004. I don't remember the opponent, but I remember the game going into the bottom of the 9th or 10th inning tied 3-3. Bob Hamelin was the first to bat and sent a pitch sky high down the right foul-line. Looking up I was blinded by the setting sun and couldn't track the ball, but then I heard a resounding "gong" as the ball struck the foul pole and the game was over. I was sunburnt and deliriously happy and I have a hard time remembering a more dramatic ending to a game that I actually attended. (I can think of a few Jacob's field thrillers, but that is another story)

So after that meteoric rise, Bob Hamelin was gone from the Royals by 1996 and out of baseball entirely 2 years later. Injuries played a role, and perhaps his inability to stay in shape, but I still have never entirely gotten over the what might have been.

I lost track of him soon after he left the Royals, and saw that he played halfway decent for the Tigers for a year in 1997, but then nothing...

So the internet being what it is, I started to do a bit of searching. It turns out I entirely missed the story of how he left baseball. It certainly adds a bit of flair to his enigmatic career. From the LA Times

"On a warm spring night in Toledo, Ohio, while playing baseball for a team called the Mud Hens, Hamelin, the 1994 American League rookie of the year for the Kansas City Royals, hit an infield groundout, jogged off the field, kicked a bat and told his manager, Gene Roof, "I'm done."

After that game Monday night, Hamelin drove to Kansas City where his wife, Marie, and 1-year-old son, Jackson, live in the home Hamelin bought after he had been rookie of the year.

Hamelin's father, Robert (Hamelin), who lives in Irvine, where the Hamelins moved from Morristown, N.J., when Bob (Hamelin) was 12, where he became a fine football player and star baseball player at Irvine High and went on to play baseball for Santa Ana College and UCLA, says he had no idea that his son would make such a dramatic exit from the game he had loved and played for 26 years, until Bob called home on Monday night and said, 'Dad, I quit.'"

I don't have the rest of the story, since it is archived, but if anyone has, as Paul Harvey would say, "the rest of the story" I would love to read it...

The latest Hamelin news come from an interview he did in 2007.

Six questions with former Royal Bob Hamelin
Posted by
Daily Dose - Sports

It’s been 13 years since “The Hammer,” Bob Hamelin, captivated Kansas City Royals fans with a magical summer. A year after the retirement of Hall of Famer George Brett, Hamelin stepped into the lineup and emerged as one of the top sluggers in the A.L.

Hamelin won the Rookie of the Year Award that season, but he was never the same after the strike in 1994. He had a decent season with Detroit in 1997 and played his last MLB game Sept. 27, 1998, with Milwaukee. Daily Dose tracked The Hammer down in North Carolina:

What are you up to these days?

I’m working as a scout for the Washington Nationals. I work the areas of North Carolina, South Carolina and Kentucky. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I had a manufacturing business until a few years ago, then I went to a school for scouts, applied for some jobs and was fortunate enough to get this one.

So, you just couldn’t stay away from the game?

Baseball has always been my passion, and it’s something I’ve always wanted to be involved in. When I left the game, I needed to stay away for a while. But eventually I wanted to get back into it. I thought about coaching until this came up. The traveling is difficult, being away from my boys, but I’ve been surprised how much I enjoy it.

You retired abruptly. What’s the story behind that?

It was 1999, and I was playing for Toledo (Detroit’s AAA team). I grounded out, walked into the dugout and said enough was enough. That was it. I told them to put somebody else in and left. Even if I was going to get called up at the end of the year, I wasn’t looking forward to playing for the Tigers at all. They weren’t very good that season. When I realized I wasn’t even looking forward to the callup, I knew it was time to step away.

What was 1994 like for you, winning the Rookie of the Year?

It really was a special, fun time. Kansas City is a great baseball town, and the fans really supported that team. It’s too bad the strike hit because I think we had a good chance of making the playoffs. That was a good ballclub, and things were just working out for me.

You struggled after that season. What went wrong?

If I could tell you that, I might still be playing. I’m not sure. I know people say the weight was an issue, but I really never felt like it was. I was a hitter. And when I couldn’t hit, that was it. I had a good year with Detroit a few years later, but it’s not like I was going to help anybody defensively or stealing bases.

You hit a lot of big home runs in a relatively short time. Where did you get that flair for the dramatic?

It’s natural to be more focused in a situation like that, but I also was lucky to have those chances and to do something with them. I always enjoyed hitting in the big games in big moments.


Age: 39
Family: Sons Jackson, 9, and Sam, 6
Claim to fame: Won 1994 Rookie of the Year Award after hitting .282 with 24 home runs and 65 RBIs
Memorable hit: “I remember a homer I hit against Chicago in 1994 during our 14-game winning streak. I think it came in extra innings (it was a three-run bomb in the 12th inning of a 6-4 KC win).”

I find it interesting that Bob Hamelin's oldest son has the same name as George Brett's oldest son (who was named after one of his rivals, Reggie Jackson).

What does this have to with baseball cards? Nothing, just random musing, but that is part of what is so great about sports and baseball in particular. Though the players are just human, the stories surrounding them seem to soar larger than life and allow you for a moment to take flight with them and escape some of the mundanity of life...

And as much as I like Topps cards, I will have to admit that Upper Deck actually did a better rookie card for Bob Hamelin all the way back in 1990.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

1981 Topps

Finished putting the the 1981 Topps set into a binder- it appears to be the only complete set I own with no missing cards. I just posted a sample of how the project is looking. This set is probably the one I remember the best from my childhood, most likely due to those distinctive hats in the lower left corners emblazoned with the team name and player position. I always thought it was kind of funny that everyone had the same shaped hat except the Pittsburgh Pirates with those hideous "cake" hats that Topps even duplicated on the cards. I can't imagine making it to the big leagues and then having to wear those hats.

In retrospect, the 1981 Topps set is probably the worst set of the 1975-1984 era. Almost all of the photos are of the fairly bland head shot variety with only rare action shots. Compare these to the 1983 Topps set where every card features the player in action and the 1981 set really starts to look mundane and boring. I don't really get all that excited about rookie cards, but the 1981 set also stands out as the set with the fewest rookies by far. The 26 "Future Stars" are almost all pointless, except for Tony Pena and a few others.

Monday, 12 January 2009


So I went out and bought 10 card binders and a few boxes of 9 pocket pages. The 1988 Topps set is done, the 1994 Topps is done. Tonight I can report the 1983 set (minus Jim Rice, Fred Lynn, and the Red Sox Team Leader card featuring Jim Rice) is sorted and put into pages... Stay tuned for photos and my highly influential opinion of this set.

Just to tie you over till I get back, here is a pic of my favorite card from the set so far..


One thing I like about the 1983 set is every card is an action shot - no more so than in this card of Ozzie Smith. Love the gold jewelry - gives the sense of motion better than most other cards...

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Cardboard Gods

Want to read about baseball cards in a way you never knew possible? Try Cardboard Gods. This is simply the most amazing blog I have ever read. I don't know anything about the author, Josh Wilker, other than we seem to be almost the same age and like baseball cards. This blog is a book waiting to be published. I just read his post on Dave Kingman and Freddie Patek and ended with tears in my eyes. Freddie Patek was everyone's favorite shortstop if you were a Royals fan in the 1970's. But to draw the contrast between him and Dave Kingman enlarges the subject far beyond just baseball to the universal experience of the underdog versus the proverbial schoolyard bully. Though I haven't really thought about Freddie Patek in 20 years, today I am saddened he never had the chance to play in the World Series. God Bless Freddie Patek.

Where Have I Been?

The updates have been lacking, but my two main excuses are 1) The holidays, and 2) I've been so busy sorting cards! I am quite sure this comes as a relief to everyone, but I have not given up on this project. I'll give a quick update and then reflect on what it means so far.

I gathered all my baseball cards (and 15,000 seems like it was a good guess) and sorted them back into years. Then, true to my word, I sorted the 1988 set into teams and put them all into one binder - I even found that I have the traded set and added those cards. I like the set, and being able to read so much about it at the absolutely wonderful 88 Topps Blog makes up for the fact that this just wasn't a set that I spent a lot of time with. I am being drawn back to my original card collecting heyday of 1976-1982. I just loved those cards when I was a kid - and some of the cards certainly look the worse for it. I found the 1978 George Brett card I used to carry around in my vinyl wallet like it was a photo of my then non-existent children. It is thoroughly wrinkled and frayed, but the profile of #5 with the bulge in his cheek (chewing gum, right?) and the All-Star badge in the lower right corner made this the most sought after card of my childhood. I actually remember being on the school bus and trading for this exact card, though I don't remember what I had to give up to obtain it. Since the kid on the other end of the transaction was so much older, I'm sure the term "highway robbery" was mumbled by those observing the bargaining.

The actual George Brett card I used to carry in my wallet

After reminiscing about the long lost Brett card, I then went on and finished sorting the 1981,1982, 1983, and 1984 sets. This took some major efforts since a lot of the good cards were in another shoebox that I had forgotten about and had sat untouched inside another box containing newspapers and sports magazines that has followed me around for about 10 different moving days. However, no amount of searching so far can explain why every Jim Rice card from every set is missing. Obviously at some point I put them some place separate from all the other cards for some reason that I don't even vaguely remember. I've looked in so many places that I have become resigned that they are gone. The rest of the cards will still go into binders, but I'll leave a scrap of paper in place of the missing Jim Rices. I have deduced that it must have been a Red Sox phenomenom since Fred Lynn is also missing from two of the sets.

Inexplicably, a few cards are missing from all the sets - even the couple of sets I bought at a baseball card show my dad took me to in the 1980's. Some of them might not actually be lost, but might simply in the wrong pile due to missorting. But no amount of sorting mistakes can account for a depressing string of missing Jim Rices. However, I have decided to wait until I am done with all the sets before I call off the search and start looking to replace them.

Speaking of replacing, I went and looked on eBay for some 1970's cards. It turns out that instead of appreciating in value, the prices have simply gone off a cliff. I remember Wade Boggs' rookie card being sold for $60 or more back in the 1990's. Now I see it sold for $2.25 just this week. My cherished George Brett from 1978 is routinely being sold for 99 cents. This doesn't phase me at all, in fact, it is giving my project a big enthusiastic boost. I might actually be able to go buy all the cards I'm missing with the change I find under the seat of my car. And I certainly am not going to worry about dinging a few corners while I am in the process of putting the cards in the pockets of the pages. I've even started scouting out what it would take to complete sets from 1975-1977, years that I only have 100 or so cards from. This might actually be possible...