It was tough to be the Milwaukee Braves, or any team like them in the 1960s.
I mean, after they lost the 1958 World Series, the Braves ran off eight more winning seasons in a row … without ever actually winning anything.
In fact, they finished fourth or lower in six of those seasons.
Such is life when you’re rubbing elbows and trading punches with the likes of the Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals.
And then there was the unrest that seemed to plague the Braves forever, and that prompted their move from Boston in 1953 and would prompt their exodus to Atlanta in 1966.
But the Braves were a good team, and they were also building for something big later on.
Not only had they lost the ’58 Fall Classic to the Yankees, they actually beat the Bombers to take the 1957 Championship.
You know the old refrain …
Spahn and Sain and pray for … well, pray for Hank Aaron and Joe Adcock and Eddie Mathews to come to the plate, that’s what.
(Except Sain was gone well before the Braves ever got to Milwaukee.)
By the mid ’60s, though, Mathews was old and Adcock was gone, and the pitching staff was unrecognizable, led by Tony Cloninger and Denny Lemaster, with Warren Spahn wrapping things up.
But, like I said, the Braves were building.
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One of those building blocks slid into place during the summer of 1964 when left fielder Rico Carty stuck with the big club after four seasons in the minors and a cup of coffee the year before.
That summer of ’64, the Braves finished 88-74, good for fifth place in the National League … a good showing, even if the overall results were disappointing.
Young Carty, 24 years old and in his fifth season after coming to the United States from the Dominican Republic, hit .330 with 22 home runs and 88 RBI, which landed him second in NL Rookie of the Year voting.
The winner? Phillies slugger Dick Allen.
But Carty had served notice that he would be a force to be reckoned with in coming years, and in fact he would continue pushing his performance all the way through 1970 when he reached career highs with a .366 batting average, 25 dingers, and 101 RBI.
That sparkling BA led all of the Majors, and by a wide margin — 37 points over AL champ Alex Johnson and 41 points over NL runner-up Joe Torre.
All of which is to say that it was no surprise at all when Carty turned up in the rarefied air of special or test issues back in those days.
Case in point — during the middle of Carty’s build-up to that one All-Star season of his (1971), Topps rolled out their 1967 Topps Punch-Outs. As with other issues of the era, like 1968 Topps Game Cards, the Punch-Outs were meant to allow collectors to simulate a real baseball game.
They did that by virtue of a lineup of Major League players, with unseen plays you could “punch out” to run through game action. And, as you might expect, actual game rules applied — each side bats until they get three outs, play nine full innings, team with the most runs wins.
And then, when you’ve punched all the holes, go get some more cards.
Except … that wasn’t really easy to do, and in fact, it was darn near impossible to find any of these things. The general consensus seems to be that the 1967 Punch-Outs were available only in Maryland and only as inserts in cello packs.
What’s all this have to do with Rico Carty?
Well, each Punch-Out featured a “manager” — a current player who fronted the whole lineup with a headshot in the upper left-hand corner.
And one of those managers?
Yeah, it was Rico Carty.
Right there on top of things … just as if “things” were the batting race.
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