Finding a baseball card you’ve never seen is one thing. It still happens to me on a fairly regular basis, and I even wrote about the phenomenon for Day 15 of my 2019 Spring Training Baseball Card Challenge.
And it’s not all that unusual — maybe more usual, in fact — to run across a baseball player you’ve never heard of. After all, there have been thousands and thousands of guys who have made it to the Major Leagues over the years, and the chances that you know or remember all of them are slim … especially when you consider there are a fair amount of them who never garner more than a cup of coffee.
But what about the marriage of the two? How often do you run across a baseball player you’ve never heard of but who somehow garnered enough attention to merit a “real” baseball card of his own?
I’d wager it’s not too often unless you’re dredging the recesses of the T206 set or some regional issues that swept in all the players they can.
For Day 16 of this challenge, though, I wanted to find a fairly mainstream card of a player I had never heard of, which of course would also make the card another one I had never seen before.
So how mainstream was I able to go? Well, believe it or not, I found a 1973 Topps card that fits the bill … card #103 of Celerino Sanchez.
No, I have no idea how a dude named Celerino has eluded my attention for at least 46 years. I mean, it’s not the most common of names, and Sanchez is the only Celerino to have ever played in MLB, according to Baseball Reference.
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Part of the “problem” with Sanchez’s visibility is that he was nearly 28 when he came to the New York Yankees in December 1971 via a trade with the Mexico City Tigers. By that time, he was already a superstar in the Mexican League, but he was joining the Yanks at a historic low point for the franchise. They hadn’t won anything since they made it to the World Series in 1964, and a string of non-contending seasons left them and their players in a dark muck of anonymity.
Against that background, Sanchez logged a .242 batting average over 336 plate appearances in 1972 and 1973, spending most of his time at third base.
That was good enough to land him on this nifty 1973 Topps baseball card, which is about as great a Spring Training card as you’ll ever find. There is Celerino, up close and personal in his Yankees pinstripes and navy blue long sleeves, with a gorgeous baseball field spread out behind him. Setting it all off is a perfect blue sky punctuated by green outfield hedges and a grove of swaying palm trees that could make even the most ardent winterphile long for the tropics.
For good measure, a tiny first baseman has perched himself on Celerino’s left shoulder.
It’s a wonderful card, and I can’t believe I never noticed it or Celerino Sanchez before.
What’s worse is that Sanchez also snagged a 1974 Topps card, which just goes to show how easy it is to sleep through various parts of life.
But I know about Sanchez and his glorious cardboard now, and I have to wonder how many more “undiscovered” gems lie in wait in dusty boxes (or JPGs), just waiting for me to find them.
Check out the entire series of 2019 Spring Training Challenge posts here.