BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! WARNING! INSANE GEEKERY AHEAD! BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!
OK, anybody left?
Being more than slightly nuts, I have a pair of binders, dubbed The Holy Books by Greg. They contain baseball cards — specifically, one baseball card for every Met on the all-time roster. They’re ordered by year, with each year containing a card for each player who made his Met debut that year. (Ed Kranepool is Class of ’62, Tom Seaver is Class of ’67, Mike Piazza is Class of ’98. You get the idea.) There are extra pages for the two World Series rosters and for the 1961 Expansion Draft. The latter includes Lee Walls, the only player in the book who never played for the Mets.
Topps is the card of choice for THB, seeing how it was around for a decade before the Mets. When a player doesn’t have a Topps card as a Met, I have to go digging for alternatives. A Tides card is the next-best thing (lots of recent Mets are in THB as Tides), a non-Topps Met card after that, and a Topps non-Met card bringing up the rear. If none of those are available, well, things get tricky.
Topps had a baseball-card monopoly until 1981, and minor-league cards only really sprang up in the mid-1970s, so some obscure players from before then have no proper cards at all. Filling the gaps are companies like TCMA and Renata Galasso, which made late-70s sets with players from the 1960s — Met pilot-light luminaries such as Jim Bethke, Bob Moorhead and Dave Eilers got cards thanks to their efforts. A card dealer named Larry Fritsch put out sets of “One Year Winners” spotlighting players with cup-of-coffee careers: The OYW set includes the Met likes of Ray Daviault, Ted Schreiber and Dennis Musgraves.
Sometimes you find a card and wish it didn’t exist: Brian Ostrosser got a 1975 minor-league card (Oklahoma City 89ers) that looks like it was made with a photocopier. Sometimes that happens twice: Leon Brown got one of those (1975 Phoenix Giants) and an Omaha Royals card courtesy of the local police department, printed in a nonstandard size. He smiles out from the latter like the photographer promised him the results would bedevil some geek collector decades later. Even then, seven Mets — Al Schmelz, Francisco Estrada, Lute Barnes, Tommy Moore, Bob Rauch, Greg Harts and Rich Puig — have no cards whatsoever. In fact Schmelz — whose name, oddly, seems to be the German shorthand for “aluminum smelter” — never seems to have even been photographed tolerably, which is why there’s a lousy Photoshopped picture of Al over there to the left. Put those seven together with the semicarded Ostrosser and Brown and you have the legendary Lost Nine.
Greg’s reaction to THB has always been entertaining: He’s keenly interested…from a safe distance. (It should be noted he’s also a THB benefactor, having graciously turned over several rare 1975 Tides.) You can see the fear in his eyes when THB matters get too insane (which is pretty much immediately), but he also likes to ask probing questions about how players are ordered, the relative desirability of certain cards over others, etc. And he has opinions. He still regards it as deeply unfair that I ruled Tommy Moore’s 1990 card with the Bradenton Explorers (anybody remember the Senior Professional League?) didn’t count as a real card. I ignored his protest, which was accompanied by a truly impassioned speech about Tommy Moore’s perserverence and moxie, then felt so guilty that I bought the damn card in case I changed my mind. Which I didn’t.
Nowadays the Holy Books aren’t particularly challenging to maintain: There are a fair number of big-league sets and scads and scads of minor-league sets. Anyone who picks up a bat for money undoubtedly has at least one card, and might have 10. And you can buy single cards cheaply and easily over the Internet. Which leaves me, the THB keeper, with pretty basic duties: look for better cards of established Mets, stockpile a card for each decent prospect, find some card for each new big-league Met — and finally, at season’s end, add the new guys to the books, look at them, remember what they did or didn’t do, handicap the odds of them getting a higher-in-the-pecking-order card, and generally moon over them until it’s February and the whole cycle begins again.
Anyway, here’s the Class of 2005, THB-style, in order of matriculation….
Carlos Beltran — The cardboard Carlos benefits from the new realities of the baseball-card biz, which is that stars who’ve changed teams get cards with their new clubs that year — with cards once again released in two or more series, there’s time to snap nomadic players in spring training. So Carlos is represented by his 2005 Topps card, holding a bat in St. Lucie. That’s about it. 2006 should bring a card of Carlos doing something in an actual game. Here’s hoping 2007 brings a card of Carlos doing something we’re happy about.
Pedro Martinez — Another old-star-on-new-club card, but seeing how Pedro’s Pedro, he’s wearing a big grin proclaiming what a gas it is to be in St. Lucie posing for a baseball card. It’s good to be Pedro.
Doug Mientkiewicz — Minky got a Topps 2005 card, but Topps did him wrong — it looks like he’s in a Minnesota or Boston uniform that’s been Photoshopped into a Met uniform. The THB frowns on such shenanigans, even though Topps has come a long way from the cut-and-paste disasters of ’70s cards, in which players sometimes seemed to be wearing a hat 40 sizes too large crowned with a logo drawn by vandals. Minky gets a 2005 Upper Deck card in which he’s wearing that wretched spring-training uni, has clearly just struck out, and has prominent love handles. Normally this would lead me to stay on the hunt for a more-flattering card, but it kind of fits.
Manny Aybar — Huh? Oh yeah. 2005 Tides card. He looks happy on it, too. Only young guys should look happy on their minor-league cards. If you’re 33 and back in AAA, you should look pissed.
Marlon Anderson — For the moment, a 2005 Topps card with the Cardinals. He’s getting another one in the Topps update set, due next month. These are the kind of milestones that let one continue living, at least in fits and starts, through the offseason.
Dae-Sung Koo — During the year I spent about $5 and too much time on eBay securing a card of Mister Koo with the Orix Blue Wave. Upper Deck then made that purchase obsolete by issuing a Met card for Mister Koo. He’s one of Upper Deck’s Star Rookies. Ha ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha ha ha!
Mike Matthews — Got a 2002 Topps card for some reason. That’ll wind up being his card of record. The Holy Books are littered with years-earlier cards of early-season middle relievers, who have a habit of washing out before Memorial Day and not even getting a job in AAA.
Miguel Cairo — 2005 Topps Total card, wretched spring-training togs. The back reads “Cairo is labeled ‘utility,’ but he could start at second for many teams — as he did the second half of the season for the 2004 Yankees.” I’m now bitter again.
Roberto Hernandez — Got a 2005 Topps Total card in a Met uniform, but he has to share it with Steve Colyer. Bert deserves better than that. Instead he gets an MLB Showdown card. Best I can tell, MLB Showdown is something like that Magic: The Gathering game for baseball, which sounds scary. Topps needs to do right by Roberto in ’06.
Chris Woodward — 2005 Topps Total card in which it’s painfully obvious he’s wearing a uniform top untucked over civilian garb. Surprised Willie didn’t fine him for that. I’m hoping for a better card. Just put him on Marlon Anderson’s. Woonderson!
Kaz Ishii — Some guys wind up with lame cards (in Kaz’s case, an uninspiring 2005 Topps Total) but I find myself fervently hoping that I never have a chance to replace the lame card with something more eye-catching. Kaz Ishii having a decent 2006 card in a Met uniform could mean Kaz Ishii was a 2006 Met. You see the problem.
Ramon Castro — Pretty good Topps Total card, marred only by the horrible black-and-blue top. The Round Mound of Pound is another guy who deserves a real 2006 card.
Felix Heredia — Shares a 2005 Topps Total card with back-stabbing incompetent Mike DeJean, which is perfect. Plus Felix’s glove appears to say “El Gato,” which is annoying. Double cards are frowned on in THB. Instead, Felix gets a 2004 Topps Total card in a Yankee uniform. Yankees are frowned on in THB. Felix Heredia is frowned on in THB. Let’s just move on.
Royce Ring — 2004 Tides card. One would think he’d have a shot at a 2006 Mets card, but one would have thought he’d have a shot at being a 2005 September Met, too.
Mike DiFelice — Tides card. There’s a new never-to-return backup catcher in the Holy Books most every year. Hey Mike, meet the fellas. Tom Wilson, Mike. Mike, this is Joe DePastino. Gary Bennett, Mike. Round and round it goes. Of course, none of those guys ever took what should have been Mike Piazza’s final at-bat. What the hell, Willie?
Danny Graves — Funny, on his THB card it looks like he can pitch. Oh, that’s because it’s a 2004 Topps card and he’s wearing a Reds uniform. Rats.
Brian Daubach — Tides card with terrible pool-guy mustache.
Jose Offerman — Weirdly, Topps hasn’t seen fit to give him a card in the regular set since 2002. This is one case where collecting baseball cards might have helped Met front-office decisionmaking. Anyway, on the card he’s a Red Sock and is either making, about to make, or has just made an error. Because he’s Jose Offerman.
Juan Padilla — Tides card. Completely unrecognizable without his trademark glasses. Deserves an ’06 Met card.
Jose Santiago — Tides card. Completely unrecognizable because he’s Jose Santiago. Deserves nothing.
Mike Jacobs — A lock for a better Met card in 2006, possibly one with this-is-a-prospect frippery. Those are always fun, at least until the prospect becomes a suspect and gets shipped out in disgrace. Jacobs currently has a stand-in 2001 Topps Stadium Club card in which he looks more bored than any human being has ever looked.
Tim Hamulack— Nice story of a guy who made it to the Show after years in the bushes. Emerged from the bushes and got shelled, making it a slightly less nice story, but that’s showbiz. Anyway, a Tides card.
Shingo Takatsu — He’s bringing the funk as a White Sock on his 2004 Topps card. Oddly, if I place a Miguel Cabrera card next to this card I immediately feel a twinge like I’m suffering from some long-ago neck sprain.
Anderson Hernandez — Beaming on his 2005 Tides card. Hope he gets one with the varsity in ’06. Though if he goes 1 for 18 again my good feelings for him will begin to erode.