Baseball has always been famous for its hot dogs, the guys who loved to show off their skills in the flashiest ways on the diamond.
You know, guys like Rickey Henderson, Reggie Jackson, Jose Lima, Jose Canseco. You could even throw Ozzie Smith and his backflips into that mix.
And, of course, Jay Kleven.
You say you’ve never heard of Kleven?
Well, that’s understandable.
But he was once a baseball hot dog, too.
Here’s how it happened …
The New York Mets signed Kleven as a minor league free agent before the 1972 season after he had concluded his college career at California State University, East Bay.
He was no hotshot prospect, but he could handle the bat sorta OK, and he was a catcher. Catchers have always been a hot commodity in baseball.
I mean, have you ever squatted down back there for nine innings, umpire breathing down your back, certain death barreling at you with every pitch?
Scary stuff. Tough stuff.
Kleven was tough enough to claw his way through the Mets farm system over five seasons, finally landing with the Triple-A Tidewater Tides in 1975.
Find 1975 Tidewater Tides cards on eBay (affiliate link)
Find 1975 Tidewater Tides cards on Amazon (affiliate link)
After a .255, 2 home run, 22 RBI showing, he was back at Tidewater in 1976.
And that’s where he was when the Mets finally came calling in June of that Bicentennial summer.
Jay Kleven was 26 years old, but he was going to The Show, darn it.
On June 20, he pinch hit for starting backstop Jerry Grote in the second inning, then stayed behind the plate the rest of the game.
Same deal on June 27, except the subbing happened in the sixth inning.
In those two games, Kleven went 1-for-5 and drove in two runs. He was an RBI machine!
But it wasn’t enough for the contending Mets to keep him around, and Kleven headed back to the minors…for good.
After a 1977 split between the New York and Cincinnati farms, Kleven was done with professional baseball.
And those two games he logged at the MLB level at an advanced age didn’t cause a blip on Topps’ radar, so there was no cardboard to commemorate the moment(s).
But, thankfully for hot dog fans, there were plenty of moments for Kleven at Tidewater.
And while he was there in 1975, the Tides teamed up with stadium hot dog vendor Stewart Sandwiches to whip up a set of 24 cards featuring manager Joe Frazier, his coaches, and a score or so of players.
Among those was Jay Kleven, catcher.
And … just how did you come by these cards, if you were so inclined?
Well, you visited the ballpark, bought a Stewart Sandwiches hot dog, and hoped your guy was among the three cards the wiener dude handed over.
If you got really lucky, there was a Jay Kleven in there.
If not, well, you could always order another dog.
The same summer that Kleven was gracing his hot dog card, Topps was pushing out one of its hot dog sets — the 1975 beauty with chiclet-colored borders. You can see that affect to good effect in this eBay lot …
That’s 16,000 cards from one of the most polarizing sets of all time. Fun stuff, no matter which side of the love-hate 1975 Topps line you land on.
Check out the full eBay listing (affiliate link).
End Date: Friday 03/15/2024 21:17:48 EDT
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