Every February, Americans run to our stores to raid the shelves of all the candy, greeting cards, flowers, and apologies for not measuring up that we can find.
Ah, yes … who doesn’t love Valentine’s Day?
And, as it so happens, February 14 is also about the same time that pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training, marking the beginning of another Major League Baseball season. In the old days, it was also when new baseball cards made their way to most corners of the earth for the first time.
Yep, baseball and Valentine’s Day go together in a coincidental sort of way like school lunch and diarrhea. Or something.
To celebrate that pairing (baseball and Valentine’s Day, that is), I thought it would be fun to put together an All-Time All-Valentine’s Baseball Card Team. So I did.
All of the guys here have names that have something to do with our big sweetheart day, and they all have a baseball card or two to rub together.
And speaking of “together,” together these players form a complete lineup, and then some.
Rick Sweet, C
Rick Sweet made a total of 272 appearances for the San Diego Padres, New York Mets, and Seattle Mariners scattered over three Big League seasons from 1978 through 1983. He hit just .234 with six homers and 57 RBI over 815 plate appearances, but he did manage to pick up a handful of baseball cards along the way. Chief among them was this, ahem, sweet 1983 Topps issue showing Sweet (the man) in the tools of ignorance — the mitt, at least — with the Mariners.
Pete Rose, 1B
Right. Pete Rose had all sorts of troubles after he came back to the Cincinnati Reds in the 1980s and became their manager, then their Bettor-in-Chief. He’s terrible and awful and broke baseball’s cardinal rule. Fine. All true.
But he was also one of the great players of the 1960s and 1970s, and it’s impossible to leave him off this team. Though Rose played all over the diamond, we’ll slot him at first base because that’s where he played most and because that fits the rest of our lineup best. And the card?
Rose cards don’t get much better than his second-year issue, 1964 Topps, which also happens to be his first solo card.
Bobby Rose, 2B
The California Angels drafted Bobby Rose out of San Dimas High School in the fifth round in 1985, and he made his Major League debut four years later. He was young at just 22 and touted in some circles as the Halos’ second baseman of the future, but Rose managed just 73 games over the course of the next four seasons. Still, he makes the cut at the keystone for our team, and he looks awfully good — in a Junk Wax sort of way — on his 1992 Topps card.
Coco Laboy, 3B
OK, this one may be a stretch, but …
“Coco” is not far from “cocoa,” and you can’t have all those tasty Valentine chocolates without cocoa. Besides, Coco was the third baseman for the original rendition of the Montreal Expos, and he has some cool early 1970s baseball cards. It’s hard to argue against the 1971 and 1972 issues, but I’ll take 1970 for all the dugout-in-the-background-golden-Topps-All-Star-Rookie-red-white-and-blue-first-year-Expos-uniform goodness it imparts.
Bobby Valentine, SS
Before Bobby Valentine was playing cards and dress-up between innings in the New York Mets dugout, he was forging a 10-year career as an actual Big League player. Like (Pete) Rose, Bobby V. played a lot of positions, though nowhere near as well as Pete did, at least if you consider the bat side of things. Among all those slots, Valentine spent the most time at shortstop, so he gets that hole for us, too.
Valentine had some solid 1970s cardboard, but we’re going with his 1972 Topps issue here because it’s so psychedelic and because Bobby looks like a shortstop in the shot.
Ellis Valentine, RF
In ten Big League seasons with the Expos (6+), Mets (1+), Texas Rangers(1), and Angels(1), Ellis Valentine collected an All-Star appearance, some MVP votes, and a Gold Glove, along with 123 home runs and some other statistical goodies.
He also gave collectors a variety of baseball card looks, from scowls to smiles to poses to blank stares.
But if you know anything about baseball cards from the 1980s, you know the only choice for this list is his 1981 Topps issue. You know, the one where he has welded a dinosaur bone onto the front of his batting helmet to protect his grill? Yeah, that one.
That card, plus Valentine’s actual baseball skills, make him our right fielder.
Fred Valentine, CF
According to Baseball Reference, Fred Valentine’s nickname is, “Squeaky.” I’ll leave it to you to find out why.
For us, Valentine’s nickname is “center fielder,” by virtue of appearing in that slot more than just about anyone else on this list, even though he spent more time in right field. Sometimes, you just have to take one for the team.
You might be interested to know that Valentine picked up some MVP votes with the 1966 Washington Senators, who were a pretty awful team under a just-warming-up Gil Hodges. That nugget is all the more relevant when you realize that his beautiful 1967 Topps card, celebrating that ’66 campaign, is our pasteboard of choice here.
Candy Maldonado, LF
Candy Maldonado was one of those guys who hit a decent amount of home runs (18 for the Giants in 1986) fairly early in his career (age 25), flashing promise that made us come back to his cards over and over, waiting for the BIG breakout.
That never came, but Candy did turn in a 15-year career that included three 20-homer seasons and 146 overall. His fielding was nothing to write home about, but he logged enough time in both right and left to make him a solid choice as our left fielder.
He’s also showcasing that powerful swing, while flashing some Los Angeles Dodgers blue, on his 1984 Topps card.
Jim Ray Hart, DH
Jim Ray Hart was a bona fide star beginning at age 22 for the San Francisco Giants in 1964. You may not know that, though, because he was generally overshadowed by a couple of ho-hum teammates name Willie McCovey and Willie Mays. Nevertheless, Hart finished second (to Dick Allen, tied with Rico Carty) in the ’64 National League Rookie of the Year award voting.
Hart also had five straight seasons with 20+, including two with more than 30, from 1964-68 before tailing off sharply thereafter.
And, while Hart’s primary position was at third base, his defense was generally considered … um … atrocious. So, left field, here he came!
And then DH, once he made the transition to the New York Yankees, as all aging sluggers must eventually do.
Still, he had some great cardboard, including a rather brutal 1974 Topps rendition where he’s actually listed as a designated hitter. Good enough to make him our DH.
But that’s not our card here … nope, we’re going with his sparkling 1965 Topps card, which reminds one (me) of the awesome ’65 Topps Tony Oliva issue.
Corky Valentine, Starting Pitcher (RHP)
Corky Valentine was a big (for the time), mean right-hander for the Cincinnati Reds who signed at age 19 and then spent six years working his way through the minor leagues and a stint in the Army before finally landing on the Big League roster in 1954. Sorta like the anti-Joe Nuxhall. Valentine pitched like a mini-workhorse (194 1/3 innings) as a rookie at age 25, but then fell off to less than 30 innings in 1955 … and never appeared in the Big Leagues again.
Corky did, however, garner one more or less perfect baseball card in that short time frame — this 1955 Topps beauty.
John Candelaria, Starting Pitcher (LHP)
If you don’t know why The Candy Man is on this list, it’s possible you’re on the wrong website. But, just in case you’re not and just haven’t spent much time pouring through this particular corner of baseball history, John Candelaria was a monstrous (6’7″) starting pitcher who toiled in the Majors from 1975 though 1993. In 1977, at age 23, he went 20-5 for an NL-leading .800 winning percentage and with an NL-leading 2.34 ERA for the always competitive Pittsburgh Pirates.
He cooled down considerably after that, but the big lefty still managed 177 career wins against 122 losses on the strength of a solid 3.33 ERA.
Oh, and his nickname was The Candy Man, but you already knew that if you were paying attention above.
Candelaria’s career spanned well into the hobby’s boom years, so there are plenty of cards to pick from, but I’m going with 1976 Topps, where Candy channels Christopher Cross and models his “Ride Like the Wind” hairdo.
Don Rose, Relief Pitcher (RHP)
Don Rose might have been the most celebrated flower-named dude in the game in the early 1970s were it not for that hustling booger down on the Riverfront. As it was, Rose made his debut for the Mets in 1971 … then pitched for the Angels in 1972 … then spent 1973 in the minors … then pitched in two games for the San Francisco Giants in 1974.
All told, Rose made 19 Big League appearances, including four starts, and saved zero games in his 15 relief appearances.
Even with just 45 2/3 innings of total work, Rose still appeared in the 1973 Topps set on a pasteboard that may hold the record for the most total white space of all time
Vance Lovelace, Relief Pitcher (LHP)
Sure, phonetically Vance Lovelace is the opposite of what you’d want for a Valentine’s day pitcher, but his last name is quite, um, lovely if you break it down — Love + Lace. How delightful.
Which is not to say that Lovelace himself was so delightful on Big League diamonds, because his 0-0 record with 0 saves and a 5.79 ERA in 4 2/3 innings pitched for the Angels and Mariners is not the stuff of dreams. Except it is the stuff of dreams, because he played in the Major Leagues.
The dream was only enhanced by the fact that Lovelace made his way onto a 1989 Fleer Major League Prospects card, right alongside Terry Taylor.
Candy Harris, Pinch Runner
As per the rules of Rule 5, the ‘Stros put Candy right onto their roster and kept him there through 1967. During that summer, he made one plate appearance over six games.
Huh? That math doesn’t work, does it?
Well, it does if you’re a pinch runner, Skippy!
And so, seven years before Charlie O. Finley made waves by signing Herb Washington to be a PR for the Oakland A’s (for PR), Candy Harris filled the role for Houston. Never mind that he struck out in his only at-bat, attempted zero stolen bases, and scored zero runs.
Dude was a pinch runner in the Major Leagues.
And, appeared on a 1968 Topps Rookie Stars card as “Alonzo” Harris, right alongside Tom Dukes.
And then was done in the Majors. Which is beside the point entirely.
(Check out our other player card posts here.)