In many ways, Bill Stein was the perfect sort of guy to become a star for an expansion team in Major League Baseball — as much as any player becomes a star for an expansion team.
By its very cobbled-together nature, a new team is unlikely to have much success right off the bat, and its players are unlikely to make huge impacts. But someone has to play everyday, and those guys imprint their names on team history.
So it was for the Seattle Mariners.
When the Mariners took the field for the first time in 1977, they brought Big League ball back to Seattle after a seven-year hiatus that came after a single season of the 1969 expansion Seattle Pilots. In case you don’t remember, Bud Selig bought that team and turned them into the Milwaukee Brewers.
In between, Seattle was granted an American League West franchise and set about building the team, where they ran into Mr. Bill Stein.
Stain had been drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in the 33rd round in 1968, then in the fourth round by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1969. He spent the next three seasons in the minors before appearing in 14 games for the Cards in 1972. After another 32 Big League contests in 1973, the Cardinals traded Stein to the California Angels in September for Jarry DaVanon. Before he could ever suit up for the Halos, though, Stein was on the move again, to the Chicago White Sox, who sent Steve Blateric to the Angels (later on).
Stein spent a couple of seasons trying to find his way with the ChiSox, appearing in 13 and 76 games before settling in to more regular work — 117 games — split between second and third base in 1976. In that “breakout” season, Stein hit .268 with four home runs and 36 RBI.
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That was enough for the Mariners to make him the 5th overall pick in the expansion draft that November, and he was off to Seattle.
With such a lofty draft slot, expectations were that Stein would become one of the Mariners’ first regulars, and he didn’t disappoint on that front. Starting 146 games at third and seeing action in 151 contests overall, Stein established career highs with 13 homers and 67 ribbies to go along with his .259 average.
With a few Major League seasons under his belt, Stein had already seen his rookie card come and go, a 1976 Topps card that showed him in his White Sox uniform. Becoming a bona fide starter opened up a few new avenues for Stein’s cardboard aspirations in 1977, though, and he took advantage with his first Topps Mariners card … and a 1977 Hostess card.
Of course, Topps didn’t have real photos of these expansion team guys in their real expansion team uniforms, so it was off to the airbrush lab to make due. And, since Topps were the folks behind the Hostess cards, too, there was more airbrushing there.
And we’re left with a 1977 Hostess card of Bill Stein in his White Sox jumpsuit/overalls that makes it look like he walked right off the factory floor, slapped on a gaudy painted Mariners batting helmet, and headed to the ballpark.
Nope, but a great representative piece of the times, and of the year, and more than worthy as our entry here in Day 8 of the 2019 Spring Training Baseball Card Challenge.
I mean, what else could you want from a baseball card of an expansion team in their expansion year?
Check out the entire series of 2019 Spring Training Challenge posts here.