“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!)
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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.
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.