Mark Armour is the director of SABR's Baseball Biography Project. He was the recipient of SABR's highest honor, the Bob Davids Award, in 2008 and the Henry Chadwick Award, honoring baseball's greatest researchers, in 2014. His most recent book, written with Dan Levitt, is In Pursit of Pennants—Baseball Operations from Deadball to Moneyball (Nebraska, 2015). He has written or co-written several other books and many articles for publication. For more information, visit his website mark-armour.net.
Twenty-five Octobers ago, baseball’s World Series finally made it north of the border, when the Toronto Blue Jays took on the Atlanta Braves. Canadian teams had been knocking at the door for many years—the Montreal Expos got to the final game of the NLCS in 1981 and competed for a string of division titles, while the Blue Jays had lost three ALCS’s (1985, 1989, and 1991). But until 1992 the World Series had always been an all-USA affair.
At the 1964 baseball trading deadline (June 15 in those days), the St. Louis Cardinals made a six-player deal with the Cubs, a trade that really boiled down to swapping pitcher Ernie Broglio for outfielder Lou Brock. This deal remains famous as one of baseball’s all-time great swindles even as modern analysts have chipped away at Brock’s claim to greatness (He was not a very good defensive player, he did not walk much for a leadoff man, etc.).
As the 1957 baseball season dawned, baseball fans in New York City could be forgiven if they had taken to thinking of the World Series as their very own event. In the recent decade (1947–56), there had been 58 World Series games played, and 48 of them had taken place in New York, including 36 of the past 38. Think about that.
Has there ever been a World Series in which the two biggest stars in baseball were the starting pitchers in Game 1 (and potentially Games 4 and 7)? I maintain that it happened just once—appropriately enough, in 1968. The Year of the Pitcher.
I am here to sing the praises of the 1980 NLCS. All five of the games are on YouTube, and I recommend visiting (or revisiting) all of them. The games were spectacular, and the baseball is nearly unrecognizable to a modern fan. There were 16 bunts—two of them for singles—and just one home run. There were six triples and only 56 strikeouts by both teams. The ball was constantly in play, and the games were decided by defenders and base runners.
Although it seems like baseball’s Division Series round began just a few years ago, we have already had 88 of them. How many do you remember? Many baseball fans can tell you who played in the 2002 World Series (or the 1952 World Series), but remembering the four 2002 Division Series might be a more challenging task. It’s like knowing the history of the NCAA basketball regional finals.
Way back at the beginning of this series I boldly proclaimed that before I wrapped up I was going to crown the best card set of Topps’ monopoly years, and I have not yet done that. Before I do, I wanted to pass along a few points you should consider before you inevitably disagree with me.
Although Fleer had failed its legal challenges to Topps in the 1960s it continued to keep its hands in the baseball memorabilia game, selling team stickers or cards honoring past World Series with bubblegum in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In 1975 Fleer asked Topps permission to market stickers or stamps of current players. When Topps refused, Fleer filed suit against both Topps and the Players Association to try to break the monopoly.
Topps began naming an All-Star rookie team in 1959 and has been doing so ever since. For many of these years, they designated these honorees the following year by putting a trophy on their card. I always thought this was a great feature of the card set, partly because the trophies were always a bit of a surprise—in the days before ESPN and the Internet, we had no knowledge who Topps had named.