Quick … think of your favorite baseball card set of all-time. Got it? Good.
Since it’s your absolute favorite set, you probably know a lot about it, and you should be able to answer some basic questions, like … what’s the last card in that set?
Unless your favorite set is 1952 Topps (Eddie Mathews) or 1954 Topps (Ted Williams) or 1975 Topps (Hank Aaron) or some other set with similar star-power love in its upper reaches, there’s a good chance you’re coming up short here.
And you’re not alone.
First cards are pretty high-profile, appearing as they do on the top of so many rubber-band dented stacks. And cards in the middle are fair game for fame and fortune, too, provided they picture a hotshot rookie or a beloved Hall of Famer.
But the last card in a set?
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Well, those guys suffer from the same sort of dented edges and center creases that first cards do, but they suffer their slings and arrows at the bottom of everything. Not much exposure unless, again, the player is something special.
In Spring Training, though, every player is something special, right? I mean, these guys are in Big League camp and they all think — or at least hope and pray — they’ll make the Big League team. And some of them actually do make the Big League team.
And when that happens, there’s a better than even chance they’ll show up on a real live Major League Baseball card of their very own, even if that leaves them on the bottom of the pile, at the back of the set.
To celebrate these cappers who so often find their way to the commons bin but without whom no set could be complete, this here Day 23 of my 2019 Spring Training Baseball Card Challenge is dedicated to a last card … in particular, the last card in a set.
In particular particular, I want to talk for a minute about a last card that really ended something. You know, like Ron Blomberg effectively ended the hitting career of Mel Stottlemyre and players like him (AL pitchers, that is).
And it’s funny you should mention Blomberg, because about the time he became the first-ever DH in MLB history (April 6, 1973), collectors were digging into the first series of 1973 Topps baseball cards. It was a pretty standard Topps issue, as these things go, with 660 cards of all the good players and mediocre players and rookie players and players who led their league in stuff and team cards, even.
Oh, and the 1973 Topps set was issued in series (as alluded to by that “first series” bit above) — five series, with 132 cards in each series. That’s significant because it was the LAST time Topps issued their cards in series, adopting the practice of dumping everything all at once beginning in 1974. (“But, they started issuing cards in series again in 1993 …” No.)
Put all those facts together and you’re left with the inescapable conclusion that the last card in the last series of 1973 Topps baseball cards represents the end of an era. So who landed on card #660?
Well, that would be none other than Fred Scherman, who spent 1969-73 doing some pretty nice bullpen work for some pretty good Detroit Tigers teams, including the American League East champions in 1972. His time in Detroit ended almost exactly the same time that Topps-by-series ended, as the Bengals traded Scherman and cash to the Houston Astros in exchange for Jim Ray and Gary Sutherland after that 1973 season.
After a couple of so-so campaigns with the Astros, it was on to the Montreal Expos, where Scherman finished up in 1976. Overall, he posted a 33-26 record with a 3.66 ERA and 39 saves.
And, of course, he scored the last-ever (real) Topps card issued in (real) series format. It’s a good-looking card featuring a head-and-shoulders shot of Scherman against the Yankee Stadium grandstand.
As the man said, you can’t always be first … but you can be last.
Check out the entire series of 2019 Spring Training Challenge posts here.