If ever there was a man that baseball fans expected to be smiling whenever and wherever they found him, it had to be Manny Sanguillen.

I mean, his baseball cards — generally — are like little packets of sunshine, and I dare you to not feel a bit happier when you see Manny lighting up the cosmos, like on his 1981 Topps card:

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Heck, even that dreary old day behind him doesn’t seem so bad in the wake of Sanguillen’s sanguinity.

But the truth is, Manny is much more than just a ray of happiness.

To wit …

Sanguillen was the Pirates’ main catching option through the first two thirds of the 1970s, plus the last year of the decade before, taking the reins from Jerry May as divisional play began in 1969.

The ensuing years were one of the greatest runs in Bucs history, producing five division titles, one pennant, and a World Series victory over the Baltimore Orioles in 1971.

Manny was a big part of all that success, too, garnering three All-Star selections and collecting MVP votes in four different seasons.

During those years, from 1969 through 1976, Sanguillen hit a pretty amazing .303 and connected on 56 home runs while driving in 497 runs. He also scored 493 of his own while starting 120+ games behind the plate six times, including twice with over 140.

So, you see, Manny endeared himself to fans through his bat, his work behind the plate, and his sunny disposition.

After the Pirates lost to the Cincinnati Reds in the 1976 National League Championship Series, though, manager Danny Murtaugh retired, leaving the Bucs in search of a new skipper.

Within a month, they found him — Chuck Tanner of the Oakland A’s.

In order to pry Tanner away from the Charlie O. Finley, the Pirates sent $100,000 to the A’s. Oh … and Manny Sanguillen.

(On a sad note, Murtaugh died that December at age 59.)

With Manny playing by the Bay, the Pirates kept winning (92-70) in 1977 but nevertheless slid to second place in the old National League East.

Something had to be done.

So, in April of 1978, the Bucs traded three players to Oakland to get their Man(ny) back.

It sort of worked, too, as Pittsburgh won 96 games that summer, though they still lost the division to the Philadelphia Phillies.

The next year, of course, they turned into the We Are Family Pirates and fairy-taled their way to another World Series title, which again came at the expense of the Orioles.

This time around, Manny was more of a bit player than a headliner, collecting most of his at-bats as a pinch hitter, but he was back, and so were the Pirates.

Until 1980, at least, when Pittsburgh stumbled to 83-79 and third place, and when Sanguillen hit .250 in 53 plate appearances at age 36.

None of that was enough to dampen Manny’s cardboard spirits, though, as that 1981 Topps number above illustrates so well.

But that December, the Cleveland Indians traded four players to the Bucs in exchange for Bert Blyleven and … Manny Sanguillen.

And suddenly, you have to think, Manny was left to contemplate what came next.

Could that be the reason for Manny’s pensive, direct gaze on his 1981 Fleer card?

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The timing of the thing argues against that interpretation, of course, because how could Sanguillen have known in the 1980 season, when this shot was likely snapped, what was coming?

He couldn’t have, but surely change was in the air.

And, by the time those 1981 cards began to make their way into collectors’ hands, things had changed again.

Because, on February 18, right about the time pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training, the Indians released Sanguillen.

He would never return to the majors as a player, though he did make a comeback in 1982, suiting up for the Broncos de Reynosa in the Mexican League.

But his career-capper cards, including that reflective 1981 Fleer issue, cemented forever what we always knew — this was Manny Sanguillen, catcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates.


Hobby Wow!

Manny continues to be a fan favorite after all these years, which imparts a special meaning to memorabilia like this:

That’s a game-worn and signed Sanguillen jersey from the man himself.

Check out the full listing on eBay right here (affiliate link).