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Before anyone ever knew what a Big Red Machine was, Ross Grimsley spent his summers helping the Cincinnati Reds win a lot of games — and division titles.

Selected by the Reds in the first round of the January 1969 MLB Draft, Grimsley quickly worked his way through Cincy’s minor league system and was in the Major Leagues by May of 1971.

Fresh off a tough World Series loss to the Baltimore Orioles in 1970 and on the cusp of  a run that would put them in the conversation with baseball’s great dynasties, the Reds simply weren’t very good in 1971.

Their rookie lefty made a promising debut, though.

While Cincinnati sputtered to a 79-83 fourth-place finish in the NL West, Grimsley stepped right into the rotation and finished 10-7 with a 3.57 ERA over 26 starts.

That earned him a 1972 Topps rookie card, complete with the coveted All-Star Rookie trophy:

 

1972 Topps Ross Grimsley

 

He was fairly clean-cut and fairly average looking for a professional baseball player in those days, don’t you think?

Grimsley was even better on the field in both 1972 and 1973, continuing to make big contributions from the rotation but also picking up a few relief appearances here and there. Here is what he looked like during those seaons, when the Reds won division titles, as depicted on the following year’s baseball cards:

 

1974 Topps Ross Grimsley 1973 Topps Ross Grimsley

 

If anything, his hair was even a bit shorter than before, and he might as well have been Don Gullett as far as appearances went.

So, as disco took hold across the nation and collars and pant legs grew wider and hair grew bigger and gnarlier, Ross Grimsley still sported the choirboy look that he brought with him to the Majors.

Now, you might argue that the Reds’ draconian no-facial-hair policy was to blame for Grimsley’s tame appearance, and that’s probably true. But who knows what the young man would have done with his mane(s) if left to his own devices?

Well, actually …

In December of 1973, the Reds traded Wallace William and young Ross (still just 23 at the time) to the Orioles in exchange for William Wood, Junior Kennedy, and Merv Rettenmund.

Grimsley posted his best season to date in 1974 while pitching for the O’s (18-13, 3.01 ERA), but the Reds generally get a pass for letting him go seeing as how they won the World Series in historic fashion in both 1975 and 1976.

What’s important for our purposes is not who won that particular trade but what happened to Grimsley once freed from the puritanical constraints of the Riverfront.

Our first bit of evidence came late in the 1974 season when Grimsley appeared in Topps’ traded series:

 

1974 Topps Traded Ross Grimsley

 

Ah, but that one’s obviously an airbrush job over top of his old Reds cap, and the artist didn’t bother to touch Ross’s hair or add a mustache.

Surprisingly, Grimsley got the same treatment from Topps in 1975 despite having spent all of 1974 with the Orioles and despite having pitched at something like an All-Star level:

 

1975 Topps Ross Grimsley

 

Grimsley’s performance dropped sharply in 1975 (10-13, 4.07), but Topps finally rewarded him with his first “real” card as a member of the Baltimore Orioles in their 1976 set:

 

1976 Topps Ross Grimsley

 

Well, that’s a different look!

After two years on the East Coast and with two years of aging factored in, Grimsley looked like a different player than the one we last saw in a doctored photo from his time with the Reds in 1973 (or earlier).

Longer hair, solid mustache … definitely starting to embrace the 70s vibe.

Another ho-hum season in 1976 brought another Topps card and a continuation of Grimsley’s supercool transformation:

 

1977 Topps Ross Grimsley

 

And then, after a 14-10, 3.96 line in 1977, Grimsley greeted collectors in his full-on, permed-out, hatless and gleeful 70s funk from the front of his 1978 Topps baseball card:

 

1978 Topps Ross Grimsley

 

Holy hirsute hurlers! This dude could have been the logo of disco, a regular Jerry West of the dance floor.

As if imbued with special powers by the glory of his hair (and hair), Grimsley signed a free agent contract with the Montreal Expos in December of 1977. He then proceeded to win 20 games in 1978, the only time in Expos history that a hurler crashed that magical barrier.

 

1980 Topps Ross Grimsley

 

From there, it was pretty much all downhill for Grimsley, even though he was just 28 years old at the end of the season.

He spent one more year in Montreal and then two pretty bad ones with the Cleveland Indians and the Orioles (again).

But, though he may have fallen short of on-field expectations, Ross Grimsley established himself as one of the most memorable baseball card subjects of the 1970s (and early 1980s).

 

1981 Topps Ross Grimsley

 

If not quite on par with Oscar Gamble and Kurt Bevacqua, then certainly a worthy adversary for Al Hrabosky.

And to think … the world would have missed out on all that glory had it not been for a specious deal by one of the decade’s great teams!

(Check out our other player card posts here.)