A new baseball season is in the cards

In the starting lineup, nine cards from my decades-old collection.
A record player
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My brother and I — Boston Red Sox diehards both — collected baseball cards when we were kids growing up in Maine in the 1970s.

Most of our cards came in small packs from Topps, complete with a piece of cardboard-like chewing gum, wrapped in opaque waxed paper. At Grant City in the Lewiston Mall, we’d ogle the bigger packs that came in clear plastic, which allowed us to identify the players featured on the top and bottom cards before purchasing.

Our collection was modest, certainly compared to the one amassed by the Godins, sons of my parents’ friends. Now THAT was a collection!

I still have my cards — also comprising a smaller number of hockey cards and even fewer football and basketball cards — in a corrugated box with five long rows. With another baseball season upon us, I pulled the box out for the first time in years.

I love the memories these cards summon. Here’s a starting lineup’s worth:

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This is the oldest Red Sox card in my collection, from the 1974 season. Bob Montgomery spent his entire career with Boston and from his debut in 1970 until his final season in 1979 was arguably the best backup catcher in the game. He hit .300 or better three times, including a career-best .349 in 1979. I was 10 on that sweltering Aug. 28, 1977 when Monty hit one of his 23 career homers into the netting above the Green Monster as we watched from our left field grandstand seats at Fenway Park. He was the last player to bat without a helmet, opting instead for a liner inside his cap.

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Cuban-born Luis Tiant, “El Tiante,” didn’t join the Red Sox until he was 30 after suffering arm problems. Known for his stocky build and twisting windup, he was incredibly durable and the person we wanted to see on the mound in a big game. In 1974, he completed 25 of his 38 starts, pitching 311 innings. Tiant pitched and won the first game I ever saw at Fenway Park; that postseason, he was 3-0 in four starts. He should be in the Hall of Fame.

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Here’s the face of hitting futility, Mario Mendoza, he of the .215 career average with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers. Two Mariners teammates, according Wikipedia, coined the term “Mendoza Line” as the threshold for hitting aptitude. Chris Berman popularized the term on ESPN.

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This old flicker card came in a box of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes. I loved Rollie Fingers’ waxed mustache and the Oakland Athletics’ garish green and yellow uniforms. For three days in 1976, Fingers was a member of the Red Sox, having been sold to Boston for $1 million. Alas, baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn nullified the transaction “in the interest of the morale of the game,” Fingers never getting into a game for the Red Sox. I still loathe Bowie Kuhn, who died in 2007.

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Mark “The Bird” Fidrych burst on the scene in 1976 as a rookie pitcher with the Detroit Tigers, his 19-9 record earning him rookie of the year honors. Shoulder and knee injuries would limit him to just 10 more wins in the big leagues. He attempted a comeback in 1982 and 1983 with the Boston Red Sox’ top minor league team before retiring. Fidrych remains my all-time favorite player. His career and his life (he died in 2009 at age 54) were far too short.

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In 1977, the expansion Seattle Mariners and Toronto Blue Jays joined the American League. In the days before Photoshop, I guess the best Topps could do was to draw a Mariners cap on Dan Meyer’s head without touching up the obvious Detroit Tigers jersey he had worn in the two prior seasons.

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I bought this signed card from a card shop in Reading, Mass., in summer 1987, two years before Yastrzemski was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. I was born in 1967, the year Yaz won the Triple Crown and led the “Impossible Dream” Red Sox within one win of their first World Series championship since 1918. Despite the pressure of succeeding the immortal Ted Williams, Yastrzemski did pretty well for himself in his 23-year career: 3,419 hits, 452 home runs, seven Gold Gloves.

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Professionally and as a fan, I’ve had a half-dozen occasions to be in the presence of Brooks Robinson. The last time, he signed this card and posed for a photo with my son, Jack, during a York Revolution game. Then and always he was unfailingly polite and accommodating. Robinson started his pro career in 1955 with the York White Roses of the Piedmont League. The next season through 1977 he played for the Baltimore Orioles en route to his Hall of Fame induction in 1983.

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Even a casual baseball fan knows of the travesty that was Boston selling Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees. Among all-time Red Sox mistakes, second place has to go to the 1990 swap of minor leaguer Jeff Bagwell to the Houston Astros for pitcher Larry Andersen. Andersen pitched all of 25 innings for the Red Sox before leaving as a free agent. Bagwell was National League rookie of the year in 1991 and MVP in 1994. He hit .297 with 2,314 hits, 449 homers and 1,529 RBI in a career that will culminate July 30 when he is inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

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