Nothing says “summer” like the running of the Indianapolis 500 every Memorial Day weekend, specifically on the last Sunday in May.
But there is one thing that gives Indy a run for its money — baseball.
By the time the Indy 500 winner makes his final turn and heads for the straightaway, the new baseball season is about a third of the way finished, and we’re getting a good idea about which teams and players are for real — or for real bad.
So, in a way, baseball and race cars have been inextricably linked for well over 100 years. Why not take that one step further, and bring baseball cards into the mix?
In particular, wouldn’t it be fun to look at some cards of guys who share last names with Indy 500 winners?
Sure it would!
Now, by my count, 70 different men have won at Indy, beginning with Ray Harroun’s blistering 74.59-mile-per-hour run in 1911. While not all of those names have baseball overlap, there are enough that it would take a book to cover (hmmmm …).
For now, then, let’s narrow our focus to the 19 drivers who have won multiple 500s and then pick out a corresponding player and card, where possible.
Before we get started, we should note that no players named Foyt, Castroneves, Franchitti, Johncock, Fittipaldi, Wheldon, Luyendyk, or Montoya have ever appeared in the Majors, so they don’t make our list. Also, there are three Unsers who appear on the multi-winner list, which leaves us with …
Nine Baseball Players Who Might Have Indianapolis 500 Bloodlines
Click the image for Del Unser baseball card listings on eBay (affiliate link)
The Racer(s): Al Unser, Sr., won the Indy 500 in 1970, 1971, 1978, and 1987;
Bobby Unser won the Indy 500 in 1968, 1975, and 1981
Al Unser, Jr., won the Indy 500 in 1992 and 1994;
(Note: The Unsers have been quite hoggish in Victory Lane over the years, no?)
Along the way, he collected more than 1300 hits and helped the Phillies win the 1980 World Series over the Kansas City Royals.
He completely whiffed on the oval, though.
Honorable mention: Al Unser, because … obviously.
Check current Del Unser card prices on eBay (affiliate link).
Click the image for Chris Mears baseball card listings on eBay (affiliate link)
The Racer: Rick Mears won the Indy 500 in 1979, 1984, 1988, and 1991, and he was faster than a snot luge on Speedway asphalt and brick in May.
The Ballplayer: Righthander Chris Mears made it to the Majors at the age of 25 with the 2003 Detroit Tigers and promptly dropped three of four decisions courtesy of a 5.44 ERA. He did pick up five saves, though, which is pretty amazing when you consider Detroit won only 11 all season (OK, it was 43).
Check current Chris Mears card prices on eBay (affiliate link).
Click the image for Dan Meyer baseball card listings on eBay (affiliate link)
The Racer: Louis Meyer won the Indianapolis 500 in 1928, 1933, and 1936, which means he was the only man to run the table in both the Roaring 20s and the Great Depression.
The Ballplayer: Dan Meyer was an original member of the Seattle Mariners, swatting 22 home runs for the 1977 team. He was only 24 at the time and had already spent a good chunk of three seasons in the Majors with Detroit.
The future looked bright, but it turned out to just be all that unbearable Seattle sunshine. Meyer hit 20 home runs one more time, spent the mid-1980s with the pre-Bash Brothers Oakland A’s, and hung up his spikes at age 32 with career totals of 944 hits, 86 home runs, and a .253 batting average.
Oh … and -6.4 WAR. Yes, that is a minus sign.
Check current Dan Meyer card prices on eBay (affiliate link).
Click the image for Bob Shaw baseball card listings on eBay (affiliate link)
The Racer: Wilbur Shaw won the Indy 500 in 1937, 1939, and 1940. “Some Pig” Shaw, a nickname proposed by E. B. White, never really caught on.
The Ballplayer: Bob Shaw played for seven Major League teams over the course of an 11-year career. He was so well-traveled that he carried spare tires with him in his suitcase.
So well-traveled that the U.S. Post Office gave him his own ZIP code –3.5230, in honor of his lifetime ERA, and including the decimal point.
So well-traveled that he had his own airbrushing equipment so he could keep his baseball cards up to date.
Check current Bob Shaw card prices on eBay (affiliate link).
Click the image to check Pete & Re-Pete listings on eBay (affiliate link)
The Racer: Mauri Rose won the Indy 500 in 1941 (in relief of Floyd Davis), 1947, and 1948.
The Ballplayer: Pete Rose, Jr., collected two hits in 14 at-bats for the 1997 Cincinnati Reds and then never saw a Major League lineup again.
He did, however, appear on one of the coolest baseball cards of all time: 1982 Fleer # 640, Pete & Re-Pete.
That makes him a winner in this space.
Check current Pete & Re-Pete card prices on eBay (affiliate link).
Click the image for Johnny Rutherford baseball card listings on eBay (affiliate link)
The Racer: Johnny Rutherford won the Indy 500 in 1974, 1976, and 1980.
The Ballplayer: Um, Johnny Rutherford went 7-7 for the 1953 Brooklyn Dodgers and appeared on a killer 1953 Topps baseball card (#137), and another pretty nice baseball card — 1952 Topps #320.
Not the same guy as the racer.
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Click the image for Eric Milton baseball card listings on eBay (affiliate link)
The Racer: Tommy Milton won the Indianapolis 500 in 1921 and 1923. It’s unclear if the rumors about a “Flintstone car” are true.
The Ballplayer: Eric Milton once was a hotshot lefty for the University of Maryland and a first-round draft pick of the New York Yankees (#20 overall) in the 1996 amateur draft.
The Yanks sent him, three other guys, and a wad of cash to the Minnesota Twins in exchange for Chuck Knoblauch in February 1998. Milton debuted for the Twins that season and pitched 11 seasons in the Majors, split between Minnesota, the Philadelphia Phillies, the Cincinnati Reds, and the Los Angeles Dodgers.
It wasn’t 1000 miles worth of victories, but Milton did finish 89-85 and managed to keep his career ERA under 5 (4.99!) despite blowing up for the Reds in the middle 2000s.
So there’s that.
Check current Eric Milton card prices on eBay (affiliate link).
Click the image for John Vukovich baseball card listings on eBay (affiliate link)
The Racer: Bill Vukovich won the Indy 500 in 1953 and 1954. Pete Vuckovich was born in 1952. Coincidence?
The Ballplayer: When I was a kid, I got a cool new bat with a real facsimile signature of a Major Leaguer named John Vukovich.
I didn’t know much about him, so I consulted my Baseball Encyclopedia.
And, um, well …
He hit .161 with six homers over ten years in the Bigs.
Thanks for the “bat,” Mom and Dad. I never felt more powerful than swinging that genuine JV model.
Even the initials were awesome.
Check current John Vukovich card prices on eBay (affiliate link).
Click the image for Gary Ward baseball card listings on eBay (affiliate link)
The Racer: Rodger Ward won the Indy 500 in 1959 and 1962 even though his first name was spelled wrong.
The Ballplayer: Gary Ward was featured on a ton of great baseball cards … and he was pissed off on every damn one.
I don’t know what I ever did to the man, but he was clearly disgusted with me. And you. Just look at a few of those cards sometime if you don’t believe me.
Oh, and Ward hit .276 with more than 1200 hits and 130 dingers during a 12-year career with the Twins, Yankees, Texas Rangers, and Tigers.
Check current Gary Ward card prices on eBay (affiliate link).
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