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OK, technically the 1969 Topps Ty Cline (#442) is not the first Montreal Expos baseball card.

For one thing, Fud’s Photography issued an Expos team set during that inaugural, expansion season.

For another, Topps issued 16 Expos cards earlier in that 1969 set.

But the Standard Catalog of Vintage Baseball Cards tells us that Fud’s was a collector issue put out after 1969.

And none of those lower-number Topps cards showed any hint of the Expos identity other than the word “EXPOS” in block letters at the bottom of each pasteboard. Topps knew the new team was coming, they knew the club name, and they knew a bunch of the players who would suit up for Montreal in 1969, but there just wasn’t time to get photos of the players in their new togs.

So we got plenty of shots of guys with no hats, guys with airbrushed hats, guys from the shoulders up — all in the name of obfuscating their former team affiliations.

1969 Topps Ty Cline

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By the time the fifth series of cards (starting with #416) hit store shelves, though, TCG had time to snap fresh photos and get them through their pre-production process, elevating Cline to a pedestal he probably never knew existed — first player to appear on a baseball card wearing the actual uniform of one of the four 1969 expansion teams (Royals, San Diego Padres, Kansas City Royals, Seattle Pilots).

Before expansion or the Expos or Topps’ mixed bag of Expos, though, Ty Cline was already a Major League Baseball player — had been for a long time.

He’d Been Everywhere, Man

Hailing from Hampton, South Carolina, Cline played for three years at Clemson University. After his junior season, the Cleveland Indians came calling, and young Ty signed as an amateur free agent in 1960.

He spent most of that summer with the Double-A Mobile Bears before a late-season call-up to the parent club. In seven games that saw him pinch-hit and play center field, Cline hit .308 over 26 at-bats — a good showing but not enough to keep him out of the minors the next year.

Cline made the most of his time with the Triple-A Salt Lake City Bees in 1961, though, hitting .290 with 75 runs scored and 69 runs batted in. That got him another cup of coffee with the Tribe and helped cement his roster spot for 1962.

That summer, in his first extended look at Big League pitching, the lefty-hitting Cline settled into a center-field platoon with righty Willie Tasby. Although Cline saw the majority of the starts (88) and also picked up several pinch-hit opportunities, he ended the year with an anemic slash line of .248/.308/.331.

That off-season, the Indians shipped Cline to the Milwaukee Braves as the player to be named later to complete the deal that brought Joe Adcock to Cleveland. Cline split the 1963 season between the Triple-A Toronto Maple Leafs and the Braves, once again logging innings in center and picking up pinch-hit opportunities.

Cline spent all of 1964 and most of 1965 in Milwaukee and then bounced through a series of moves that sent him to the Chicago Cubs, the Atlanta Braves, and the San Francisco Giants by the end of the 1968 season. All along the way — save for ’64 when he hit .302 in 116 ABs — the batting average was weak, and Cline found himself farther and farther from his center field home. Plenty of his innings came at the corner outfield spots and at first.

So, when the Expos nabbed him with the 41st pick of the 1968 expansion draft, they knew what they were getting — a soon-to-be 30-year-old sorta utility guy who wouldn’t hit much but could eat some innings at first or in the outfield.

And he was in the middle of a season that would see him be just that when Topps rolled out their first-ever “real” Expos card in 1969.

That year, Cline hit .239 in 209 at-bats spread over 101 games for Montreal, a tally that included 30 starts in center field and 10 at first.

1969 Topps Ty Cline (back)

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Tuning Up the Machine

After playing two games for the Expos in 1970, Cline found himself with the Cincinnati Reds, traded on June 15 for Clyde Mashore.

As it turned out, Cline’s talents were well-suited to a Reds team on the cusp of great things, and he hit .270 over 48 games as Cincy romped to a division title in the old National League West. They proceeded to sweep the National League Championship Series over the Pittsburgh Pirates before running into the sawmill that was the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series.

Cline certainly did his part to get the Red Machine running, as he tripled and scored the winning run in Game 1 of the NLCS and the series-winner after a walk in Game 3.

In the World Series, Cline gained some infamy as the batter who chopped the ball that led to Bernie Carbo being called out at the plate even though he was never tagged with the ball. The Reds lost that Fall Classic four games to one, but plenty of old-time fans still wonder what might have happened had the Carbo play gone the other way.

As for Ty Cline, well, he was back in Cincy for the 1971 season, upping his playing time to 69 total games. Heck, the future looked bright … well, except for that ghastly .196 batting average.

That was bad enough for the Reds to release Cline in January of 1972, and bad enough for the rest of MLB to pass on him, too.

At 32, Ty Cline was out of baseball, finishing with a lifetime batting average of .238 courtesy of 437 hits that included six home runs, 53 doubles, and 25 triples.

It was a good, long run.

More importantly, it was a historic run that Topps immortalized right there in the red, white, and blue of the Montreal Expos on card #442 in the 1969 set.

Not a bad legacy at all.

(Check out our other player card posts here.)

Montreal Baseball, Expos-ed from Start to Finish

The Expos may be gone (at least for now), but they offer collectors and fans a unique opportunity — a franchise whose entire existence fits neatly into the span of a human lifetime. That means we can talk to people who witnessed the entire Expos story, and we have a fairly accessible collectible record, too. Like this eBay lot:1969 First-Year Montreal Expos

Among the items here are a program and yearbook from the first Expos game in 1969, several other early game pieces, and tickets from both the first and last Expos game ever played.

Fun to look at and ponder, even if it’s out of your price range (at about a grand).

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