One of my goals when I set out to tackle this 2019 Spring Training Baseball Card Challenge, writing about one card a day for the 46 days of Spring Training, was to try and not be a complete homer.
See, my natural inclination is to turn the old virtual three-ring binder right to the pages with Cincinnati Reds cards and just go to town. But I’ve written plenty about the Reds on this site already and will probably write about them plenty more.
So … you know, balance.
But even back in the beginning of this thing, I knew Day 38 — today — would be a present a special challenge. Today is the day I’m going to look at a card that features a drawing or painting, and there was really only one set that would do — 1976 Linnett Superstars.
Now, they weren’t necessarily the first cards I thought of — I probably loosely had 1953 Topps or 1951 Bowman in mind as I wrote down the challenge.
And the first cards showing artwork I can remember owning were some of the early Donruss Diamond Kings cards.
All great stuff, but a little mundane, and none of them quite trip my nostalgia switch like the Linnetts.
The first time I saw those oversize beauties with the colorful borders was on a trip to our more-or-less local antique/junk shop in the summer of 1984. That was the magical season when I finally latched onto baseball, and baseball cards, for good after years of flirting. It was the summer I knew I was done-for, all-in.
I think we all have a summer like that rattling around in our memories, and when you look back, it’s easy to see the magic of so many moments baking into your heart and soul for the long haul. At the time, we were just having fun, awed by it all.
So anyway, I walked around the end of one dusty aisle of shelves and cases in this dingy old shop, and there were the Linnetts, shining up from their home nestled among stacks of old Life magazines and someone’s long-lost collection of alabaster thimbles.
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The cards were huge …
They were colorful, each with a red, back, blue, green, or white border ..
They were black-and-white — the player images, that is …
They were drawings, for gosh sake …
And … they commemorated the 1975 World Series.
Even at that early point in my fandom, thanks to my dad’s limited knowledge of recent baseball history, I was aware that the 1975 Reds were The Big Red Machine.
And therein lies my problem with The Challenge. Basically, I have no choice but to look at a Linnett card here, but I’m trying to avoid talking about yet another Reds card!
Luckily, though, the Linnetts didn’t focus on just the Reds. In fact, I’d find out later that they were sold in larger perforated sheets, allowing you to collect the Los Angeles Dodgers, Boston Red Sox, or the Reds all in one fell swoop.
So, the Linnetts didn’t really celebrate just the 1975 World Series, but that’s the lasting impression 12-year-old me carried forward from that long-ago day. And I had forgotten there were any Dodgers involved at all until I started putting this piece together.
Doesn’t matter, though.
Because I can pick a dude who was there when the Reds won their first “Machine” Fall Classic without picking an actual Red. So, who am I picking?
There are plenty of good candidates, but I’m going with Luis Tiant.
Tiant was not dominant in 1975 at 34 years of age, but he did win 18 games. And then, in the World Series against the Reds, El Tiante went 2-0 and got a no-decision in that amazing Game 6 — the one where Carlton Fisk waved a ball around the foul pole and into diamond lore.
Then, in 1976, Tiant went 21-12, 3.06 for his last really great season. All in all, Luis went 229-172, with a 3.30 ERA and more than 66 WAR. That leaves him as something like the 52nd best starting pitcher ever and better than some well-known Hall of Famers.
And yet Tiant still sits outside of Cooperstown.
But his card (#108) in the Lineett set is awesome — if bald (receding, at least) — in its green borders. More than good enough for this Challenge.
(And, yes — my dad bought those Linnetts from the junk store for me. Thanks, Dad!)
Check out the entire series of 2019 Spring Training Challenge posts here.