(Check out our other player card posts here.)

It might seem hard to believe now, but there once was a time when the intersection of baseball cards and young baseball careers was harder to find than the display case where the Milwaukee Brewers and San Diego Padres store all their World Series trophies.

Take Rick Sutcliffe, for example.

Sutcliffe first came onto the national scene way back in 1974 when the Los Angeles Dodgers selected him in the first round (21st overall pick) of that year’s June draft.

At six-feet, seven-inches, he would be one of the tallest pitchers to ever take a Major League mound — assuming he made it that far — but didn’t have the overpowering stuff you might expect of such a giant of a man. Still, if a such a physical specimen made his way to the pro ranks through a first-round pick today, the spotlight would find him in a heartbeat.

And he would land on a baseball card before the pick was even out of the GM’s mouth.

1978 cramer rick sutcliffe

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So the 18-year-old Sutcliffe slid into the Dodgers’ farm system and began plugging away.

By 1976, he had made his first appearance at Dodger Stadium. It was a gem of a relief stint against the Houston Astros on September 29, with Sutcliffe lasting five innings, striking out three batters, and allowing two hits but no runs.

To get there, he made a jump up from the Double-A Waterbury Dodgers, and a quick search of the minor league card rolls show no sets for that team that year. There had been none issued for Sutcliffe’s teams in Bellingham or Bakersfield the previous two years, either.

And that one Big League appearance wasn’t enough to net Sutcliffe a Topps card, or even an SSPC card, either.

So, in 1977, the Red Baron headed back to the minors for another couple seasons of, well, seasoning, before the Dodgers called up him up again at the very tail of the 1978 season as they were preparing for another postseason run. He managed less than two innings of work over two appearances, but, as it turns out, he was done with the minor leagues.

Before Sutcliffe could escape the cozy confines of Triple-A, though, he and his young teammates with the Albuquerque Dukes caught the attention of the folks at Cramer, who produced a 10-card set of the 1978 club. The checklist for that baby looks like this:

1978 Cramer Albuquerque Dukes Checklist

  1. Joe Beckwith
  2. Bill Butler
  3. Terry Collins (coach)
  4. Del Crandall (manager)  — misspelled “Dell”
  5. Brad Gulden
  6. Pedro Guerrero
  7. Enzo Hernandez
  8. Kevin Keefe
  9. Rafael Landestoy
  10. Rudy Law
  11. Dennis Lewallyn
  12. Don O’Rear
  13. Pablo Peguero
  14. Bill Simpson
  15. Rick Sutcliffe
  16. Ron Washington
  17. Hank Webb
  18. Bob Welch
  19. Claude Westmoreland
  20. Logo Card

That’s a pretty decent roster, huh?

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In addition to Sutcliffe, guys like Beckwith, Gulden, Guerrero, Landestoy, Washington, Welch, and others spent some quality time in the Majors.

Guerrero was an MVP candidate on multiple occasions, and both Sutcliffe and Welch won Cy Young awards.

Back in 1978, though, they were all just hoping to get a shot at the Majors, and the Cramer cards lent a legitimacy to their campaigns.

1978 cramer rick sutcliffe (back)

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There was nothing artistic about the cards, to be sure, and they had plenty of problems. (How about misspelling your manager’s first name, for one?)

But they were actual cardboard of an actual professional baseball team of guys would soon be actual Major Leaguers. And they were kind of orange and sunny.

Like a spotlight.

Is it any wonder that Sutcliffe is smiling?

“Defunct” is a pretty strong word, meaning something along the lines of no longer in existence or no longer functioning.

So, when I decided to include a card showing a player from a defunct team as Day 9 in my 2019 Spring Training Baseball Card Challenge, well, I didn’t necessarily mean “defunct.”

Not in the strict sense.

I mean, you’d have to go all the way back to 1915, the last year of the Newark Peppers, to find a truly defunct Major League Baseball team. I’m sure there are all sorts of cool cards out there for the Peppers and the Chicago Whales and the Kansas City Packers, but they don’t resonate all that strongly with me. Sure, I’d like to own them, but they’re so old they don’t really crank up any nostalgia for me.

(How about that? Too old to be nostalgic!)

1970 Topps Super Tommy Harper

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So what I’m really thinking of when I say (or think) “defunct team” is a team that has moved from its original city and changed mascots.

The St. Louis Browns became the Baltimore Orioles, so the Browns are, in a sense, defunct.

The Washington Senators became the Minnesota Twins. The Senators are defunct.

The (new) Washington Senators became the Texas Rangers. The (new) Senators are defunct.

But maybe the most romantic “defunct” baseball team story of the post-war era is that of the Seattle Pilots.

Part of the 1969 expansion crop that also included the San Diego Padres, Montreal Expos, and Kansas City Royals, the Pilots lasted only one year before Bud Selig (yes, him) purchased them and moved them to Milwaukee.

Given the city’s location on Lake Michigan, “Pilots” could have been an OK moniker to hold onto, but “Brewers” makes a lot more sense given the history of the joint, including earlier baseball teams with the same name.

So the Seattle Pilots became the Milwaukee Brewers, meaning the Pilots are defunct by our working definition.

Ah, but the Pilots were around as the Pilots for long enough to score Topps baseball cards in two straight years — 1969 and 1970.

In 1969, Topps scrambled just to get guys labeled with the right team, but for the most part showed Pilots (and Royals and Padres and Expos) with no hats or airbrushed deals.

By 1970, though, Topps had had enough time to gather up photos of players in real Pilots uniforms … and they weren’t going to waste them by calling them “Brewers.”

And it wasn’t just the base set that gave us sweet pics of the 1969 Pilots. Nope, Tommy Harper, who would become an All-Star for Milwaukee in 1970, landed on card #9 in the 1970 Topps Super set.

1970 Topps Super Tommy Harper (back)

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It’s a big, thick, card with wall-to-wall blue sky, mountains, and ball field, with Harper himself right in the middle. And on his head is that golden-S cap, complemented by “ILOTS” on his chest and a facsimile autograph.

The back of the card only makes the whole thing better, featuring as it does the same white, blue, and yellow motif and classic cartoon that make the base card backs so outstanding.

Of course, Seattle fans likely weren’t as enamored with this card as I am, sitting here nearly 50 years on. It did, after all, show a budding star who should have been theirs, gosh darn it, but no longer was. And, whether you accept my softened definition of “defunct,” you have to admit Harper’s uniform, at least, is a relic of history.

A relic we can access anytime we want, thanks to one glorious baseball card.

Check out the entire series of 2019 Spring Training Challenge posts here.

1987 Topps - #142 Rick Sutcliffe

End Date: Friday 06/14/2024 13:08:57 EDT
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Rick Sutcliffe #740 1988 Topps

End Date: Friday 06/14/2024 14:40:46 EDT
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e=”font-weight: 400;”>(Check out our other player card posts here.)

1987 Topps - #142 Rick Sutcliffe

End Date: Friday 06/14/2024 13:08:57 EDT
Buy it now | Add to watch list

Rick Sutcliffe #740 1988 Topps

End Date: Friday 06/14/2024 14:40:46 EDT
Buy it now | Add to watch list