(Check out our other player card posts here.)
Imagine, for a few moments, that you’re Gerry Pirtle.
You were born and raised in Tulsa, OK, just as America was getting its stuff back together after World War II.
Like so many Baby Boomers, part of your everyday life was baseball — thinking about it, reading about it, but, especially, playing it.
By the spring of 1966, you were a good enough pitcher that folks around town were talking about the possibility of a Big League career.
And, then, when you graduated from high school, the Washington Senators picked you in the June draft … in the 26th round.
You could read the tea leaves on that one, and so you enrolled in Bacone College instead.
Then, the next January, the Atlanta Braves came calling during the January draft, making you their seventh-round pick.
Better, but these were the Braves. Sure, they had Hank Aaron and had won 85 games in 1966, but they were a fifth-place team. Besides, it was the middle of the school year, so you stayed put.
But then, in June, the New York Yankees picked you in the seventh round of the summer draft.
The New York Yankees!
How could you turn down the Bronx Bombers?
So you signed and then reported to the Johnson City Yankees of the Appalachian League in Tennessee.
You were 19 years old and had a bright baseball future ahead of you. All you needed to do was get in there and start working.
And that’s what you did …
After a going 4-6 with a 3.16 ERA in 1967, you spent both 1968 and 1969 at Single-A. When the Yanks moved you up a rung in 1970, you recorded your third straight 10-win season, though your ERA climbed from 2.09 two years earlier all the way to 4.02 with the Manchester Yankees.
That trend caused the Yanks to start fiddling with your role, and in 1971, they used you as a starter and a reliever in a year split between Double-A and Triple-A.
By 1972, you were relieving more than starting, but you were knocking on the door of the Majors.
To help the role transition, you spent the winter of 1972-73 pitching for the Navegantes del Magallanes of the Venezuelan League. Heck, that gig even landed you your first baseball card/sticker:
Then, though, you stalled … as a nearly full-time reliever, you spent 1973 at Triple-A Syracuse but were pushed back down to Double-A New Haven for all of 1974. It was back to Syracuse in 1975, where you went 7-3 with a 2.70 ERA in 61 relief appearances.
But you were 27 now, and there still had been no call up to The Show.
In January of 1976, though, another call came, and it was one that maybe you had started to suspect was coming, maybe a long time ago.
Oh man, that was not good.
But, hey, at least Rick Stelmaszek had some Major League experience, so maybe the move boded well for you.
You spent 1976, 1977, and the first part of 1978 with the Triple-A Wichita Aeros before the Cubs released you in May.
You were 30 years old and had just been released from the minor leagues by the lowly Chicago Cubs. It felt like you might be done, like your dream of standing on a Big League mound might never come true.
But then, the Montreal Expos called … they wanted to sign you. And so you signed, because Montreal was a Major League team, and you were a Major Leaguer, even if no one else knew it yet.
You reported to the Triple-A Denver Bears and pitched fine for them until mid-July when the Expos called again.
What was it this time?
Extradition of some sort?
It was none of those.
It was … THE Call.
At long last, you were headed to the Major Leagues!
On July 2, 1978, you made your Big League debut with a two-inning relief stint against the St. Louis Cardinals, allowing one hit and no walks, striking out one.
Over the next two months, you made a whopping 18 more appearances, all in relief, racking up 14 strikeouts in 25 2/3 innings. Sure, your seasonal ERA ended up at 5.96, but you made it, baby!
Well, sort of.
The Expos didn’t ask you back for 1979, but the Baltimore Orioles picked you up the the next spring and sent you to Triple-A Rochester. Considering that the O’s were a championship-caliber team with a star-studded rotation, you knew your chances of making it to Baltimore were slim.
Still, even as you toiled for the Red Wings at age 31, the proof of your baseball immortality was being pushed out to store shelves all across the land.
For, there in the center of the 1979 Topps Expos Prospects Cards (#720) was a very familiar face … yours!
To your right was Jerry Fry, a catcher who received an even smaller cup of coffee in 1978 than you did.
And to your left was Scott Sanderson, who looked like he might be a real pitching prospect. Poor kid … you almost felt sorry for him. You knew how these things went
But YOU were the centerpiece of the card. YOU were the guy who drew every collector’s eye when they picked up the brand new pasteboard with the black-and-white pictures.
YOU were the one who …
Hey … wait a minute!
That name under your photo, and that name in the middle of the card back … was … “Jerry” Pirtle.
Oh, good grief.
(Check out our other player card posts here.)