Spring Training is all about hope, about making old things new and bringing new things into the sun for the world to see.
And what better representation of sunshine and renewal — and old things trying to recapture good times (and health) — than palm trees?
I mean, it’s hard to imagine anyone being down when you have a palm tree glistening in a clear blue sky.
You’re either on Spring Break …
Or you’re on vacation …
Or you’ve retired to some beautiful, warm clime …
Or, thank the heavens, it’s Spring Training.
And that’s why Day 3 in this 2019 Spring Training Baseball Card Challenge prevails upon us to choose a card that shows a palm tree.
Luckily for us, baseball card manufacturers spent the glory years of the hobby culling their pasteboard images from shots taken during Spring Training. We have stellar choices strewn all through sets from the 1960s, 1970s, and into the 1980s.
(Plenty of fodder, in fact, for a separate post or two down the line if we want to go there.)
For this Spring Training, one palm-tree card jumped out at me.
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Maybe it’s the bubbling unease in the Major League labor market as big-time free agents like Manny Machado and Bryce Harper remain unsigned even as pitchers and catchers prepare to report here and now, in February 2019.
Maybe it’s the fact that the Boston Red Sox and New England Patriots both won championships in the past four months, a sorry state that has me longing for a time when the stench of clam chowder did not hang in the sporting air.
Maybe it’s the clean design of the card itself, or the kinship I feel with the player(s) pictured.
In reality, it was all of those factors and more that led me to the 1982 Donruss Yankee Winners card featuring Tommy John and Ron Guidry.
The Yankees had just lost the 1981 World Series to the Los Angeles Dodgers, but it was no mean feat just to get to the Fall Classic that October. In case you forgot, 1981 was the year of The Strike that split the season down the middle. In order to make it to the end, a team had to “win” their division in one of the halves, then navigate a complicated postseason that included the first rendition Division Series.
If you read the tea leaves in 2019, you get the feeling there might be another work stoppage in front of us, and not all that far out. Hopefully not, but history is not kind on this point.
Leaving October considerations behind, the card itself features Guidry, the man dubbed Louisiana Lightning, and whose monstrous 1978 season was one of the first pitching lines that made my eyes pop — 25-3, 1.74 ERA, Cy Young, second in MVP voting.
It also featured Tommy John, a fellow Hoosier who changed baseball by successfully recovering from the surgery that bears his name and whose 26-year career yielded 288 wins and a 3.34 ERA.
This card — #558 — was also part of a greatly revamped second-year offering from Donruss that didn’t completely wipe away the sins of the 1981 set but at lest cleaned things up and set changes in motion that would lead Big D to happier hobby fortunes in 1984 and beyond.
And the element that ties it all together in one big bouncing bundle of springtime joy is the cluster of palm trees that juts out of John’s right shoulder.
One look, and you know it’s spring … that there’s hope, even for a flawed game and a hobbled old man pitcher and a flamethrower who wasn’t as good as he once had been.
Hope … yes, it springs eternal on the baseball diamond. And on the 1982 Donruss Yankee Winners card.
Check out the entire series of 2019 Spring Training Challenge posts here.
1982 Topps Baseball Cards Complete Your Set U-Pick (#'s 401-600) Nm-Mint
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“a sorry state that has me longing for a time when the stench of clam chowder did not hang in the sporting air.”
Hah! Great line.