Baseball cards weren’t just a collectible from my childhood, they provided hours upon hours of entertainment.
Having only three television channels to pick from on the family farm north of Lethbridge (remember channels 7, 10 and 13?), my exposure to actual baseball games was limited to say the least.
So I had to come up with my own form of baseball entertainment. I’m not exactly sure where I learned the game, but it involved baseball cards and a single dice.
A field would be set up on my bedroom floor and with the baseball cards, I’d organize two squads set up by actual teams or by the set (1987 Topps and 1990 Donruss were two of my favourites). One team would go out on defence while I set up a batting order for the other.
As for the die, each number represented a specific outcome:
1 – ball
2 – strike
3 – single
4 – double
5 – triple
6 – home run
I would play the full nine innings and, in some cases, would play multiple games a day. In a bit of foreshadowing, I started doing play-by-play of the games when I got a little older. Who would have thought at that time that I would end up in broadcasting?
The value of the cards never really crossed my mind. Even though we didn’t have a lot of money, my parents saw sports cards as an investment and hoped I would hold onto them because they would be “worth something someday.” Unfortunately, most of my cards are from the 1987-1995 vintage. Yep, junk wax.
I didn’t care, and frankly still don’t, because of the memories those little pieces of cardboard created. I mean, in what other world would former Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Mauro Gozzo be a superstar simply because of his great name and the fact he was a member of my favourite team?
Unfortunately, Gozzo didn’t spend any time playing in Alberta so he won’t be making my All Star Team. A few of the cards below did, however, have regular spots on my bedroom floor.
Everyone who collected baseball cards knows they stocked up on players who they thought might be superstars one day. Some were hits while others were whiffs. For me, that player was Randy Knorr.
To his credit, the backstop had a respectable 11-year career in the majors and was part of the 1992-1993 World Series champion Toronto Blue Jays (backing up Ian’s choice of catcher, Pat Borders). Little did I know at the time, but I had hitched my hopes on a player who both started and finished his professional career in Alberta. He hit 14 home runs and 56 runs batted in for the Medicine Hat Blue Jays in 1986-1987. Then in 2003-2004, Knorr smacked another nine home runs and 85 RBIs with the Edmonton Trappers.
Admittedly, there is nothing super-flashy about the 1992 Fleer set. However, I have an affinity to the slight change in approach to what is obviously a photo from spring training. Instead of a straight-on head shot, the photographer added some flair by shooting up to a half-smiling, half-menacing Knorr.
After retiring from playing, Knorr remained in the game as a coach and manager in the Washington Nationals system. He is now entering his second season as skipper of the Fresno Grizzlies of the Pacific Coast League.
You can almost imagine what’s going on in Kevin Millar’s head looking at his 2004 Topps card. Things were definitely good that year, as his Boston Red Sox went on to win the World Series. His famous “Cowboy Up” saying and calling his teammates “idiots” to keep the mood light in the locker room were big parts of his legacy with his time in baseball.
Five years earlier, Millar made a brief but effective stop in Alberta. With the Calgary Cannons, he hit .301 with seven home runs and 26 RBIs in 36 games, spending the rest of the season with the Florida Marlins.
Millar is well-known nowadays for his work in the media. He is an analyst with the MLB Network and co-hosts “Intentional Talk” with Chris Rose as well as the podcast “Intentional Talk: Caught Listening.”
Who can forget that episode of “The Simpsons” when Mr. Burns brings in a team of MLB players for his Springfield Isotopes softball team? The second baseman on that squad was none other than former Lethbridge Dodger Steve Sax.
The two-time World Series champion, five-time All Star and Silver Slugger winner has a concerned look on his face in his 1992 Upper Deck card that kind of mirrors the look on his face when he was pulled over in that famous cartoon.
“Well, well, well, Steve Sax from New York City,” Officer Eddie chimed.
“I heard some guy got killed in New York City and they never solved the case,” Officer Lou continued. “But you wouldn’t know anything about that now, would you, Steve?”
“But there are hundreds of unsolved murders in New York City,” Sax replied.
“You don’t know when to keep your mouth shut, do you Saxxy boy?” Lou retorted.
Now, we’re sure that’s not Sax was talking with his coach about in this card. We’re also sure he wasn’t regailing his coach about his 1978 season in Lethbridge, where he hit .328 with 21 runs batted in as a slender 18-year-old.
When you think of Jason Giambi, what do you see? For many of us, we think about the big power-hitting force that scared many pitchers in his 20 MLB seasons. We also think of him as a first baseman. But that wasn’t always the case.
The slim and smiling up-and-coming third baseman was destined for great things, having already taken home most valuable player honours in high school baseball and basketball while he was an All-League quarterback for his school’s football team.
Giambi would join future MLBers like Nomar Garciaparra, Michael Tucker and Jason Varitek on Team USA as they would finish fourth in the 1992 Olympics. He posed for this shot before those Games took place, juxtaposing what he was with what he would later be in smashing 440 career major league home runs.
In 1995, Giambi played in 55 games for the Edmonton Trappers. He hadn’t found his power game yet but he was seeing the ball really well. His final stat line features a .342 batting average with three home runs and 41 RBIs.
There are so many Alex Rodriguez baseball cards I could have chosen from. But this is the only one that comes to mind when I think of shortstops with Alberta connections.
A-Rod’s 1995 Score card is one of the cards that had regular rotation for the Seattle Mariners on my bedroom floor. This would have been around the time where I started taking the “investment” side of the hobby a little more seriously and saw the “rookie” tag in the bottom left as a sign that it might be worth something one day.
Unfortunately, it probably won’t thanks to mass production and the fact there were so many sets out at that time with “rookie cards.”
In hindsight, that 1995 season was obviously a special one for a bunch of reasons for Mariners fans. Just a year earlier, Calgary sports fans got to watch the future superstar for a short time. In 32 games, Rodriguez hit .311 with six home runs and 21 RBIs.
And yes, I still have the card. It’s in a hard cover hanging in a frame with several other special baseball cards I own.
There are so many different choices at our disposal for outfielders on this list. We’ll start off with a man known for his cannon from the outfield and his photogenic smile.
Yet, it wasn’t that which caught our eye with his 1981 Topps card. He appears to be a bit of a trend-setter with the half-shield protecting the left side of his face. We’re not exactly sure of the origins of this particular piece of protection, but many present-day players utilize the full-shield to protect their jaws.
Valentine didn’t spent a lot of time in Alberta, making two stops in consecutive seasons. In 1983, he hit .222 in three games for the Edmonton Trappers while he failed to register a hit in two games in 1984.
Also patrolling the outfield on this squad would be Ron Kittle. He’s another one of those players who made two separate stops in Alberta, starting with the Lethbridge Dodgers in 1977. Kittle hit .250 with seven home runs and 21 RBIs in 34 games during his rookie campaign. Then in 1982, he set the Alberta baseball scene on fire by hitting .345 with 50 home runs and 144 RBIs with the Edmonton Trappers.
Many of his cards from that era with the Chicago White Sox also set collectors on fire. How could you not with those great jerseys with “SOX” emblazened across their chests.
For me, there was always something special about the Donruss “Diamond Kings” subset that came with every year. The artwork was always second-to-none and provided something different from the typical posed or action shot.
And speaking of Donruss subsets that always got us excited, how about “Rated Rookies”?
That brings us to our final outfielder and he was also a beast during his time in Alberta. Danny Tartabull’s rookie season came in the inaugural campaign for the Calgary Cannons in 1985. His MVP season included a .300 batting average with 43 home runs and 109 RBIs.
The same season, Donruss created Tartabull’s rookie card. Again, there’s nothing spectacular about this card, other than the old school Mariners’ logo. And the hair. Oh that hair. Can’t get more throwback than that.
DESIGNATED HITTER & BENCH PLAYER
Seeing as though Ian found an error card to cover his bases for both spots, I started looking for error cards of my own and happened upon this interesting oopsy.
The best part about this card is that it features two players with connections to Alberta, particularly the Calgary Cannons.
It doesn’t take you long to realize that it’s not Omar Vizquel. Upon further review, that is most definitely Darnell Coles. Vizquel spent parts of four seasons with the Cannons (1988-1990 and 1992) while Coles joined Tartabull as a member of that first team in 1985. He hit .320 with four home runs and 24 RBIs in 31 games.
It had been about 30 years since the Beach Boys penned “Surfin’ USA” when Bert Blyleven was photographed looking ready to head to the nearest beach in Californ-I-A.
The future Hall of Fame hurler was nearing the end of his career when this card surfaced in the Upper Deck set of 1991. In his 22-year MLB career featuring stops in Minnesota, Texas, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and with the Angels, Blyleven registered a 287-250 record with a 3.31 ERA.
In looking through his cards, he always seemed so serious in his poses or when he was on the mound. So it was nice to see that big grin not only on the front of the card, but the back as well.
Blyleven played in just two games for the Edmonton Trappers in 1992. He went 2-0 with a 6.17 ERA, striking out seven batters in a little more than 11 innings of work.
It might be one of the most legendary baseball cards in the world and it features a player who spent a little time in our province.
When it comes to his on-field performance, Keith Comstock had a good run. A 13-year professional including six in the majors where he picked up a 10-7 record and a 4.06 ERA in 144 games.
It was during his time with the Las Vegas Stars in the late-1980’s where he gained notoriety. Not for his game-play, but for his famous 1989 ProCards pose. Yes, that is a baseball right in the nether-regions.
Obviously, it’s staged and Comstock later admitted he just wanted to do something different from the usual poses.
“I just said, ‘I’m gonna take it to the nuts,’” Comstock told WBUR last October. “And then, you know, to make a face like, [if] that ball is hitting you in that area and how much it would hurt.”
That same year, Comstock was released by the San Diego Padres and signed two days later with the Seattle Mariners, who sent him down to the Calgary Cannons for five games. He would return in 1991 to post a 3-1 record and a 3.28 ERA in 15 relief appearances.
I’ll see Ian’s intensity with Grant Balfour and I’ll raise him a Jason Grilli.
“Grilled Cheese” was well-loved wherever he went, as he wasn’t afraid to show his personality and emotion on the bump. Highly-regarded early in his career, Grilli had his struggled to keep a regular spot in the majors and ended up needing Tommy John Surgery in 2002.
He went on to spend 15 seasons in the majors with several stops including Florida, Pittsburgh and Toronto. It was during his time with the Marlins where he’d make Alberta home for a few games.
His first stop came in 1999, where he went 1-5 with a 7.19 ERA in eight starts. He returned for eight games in both 2000 and 2001 and one more in 2002. It was during that final game with the Cannons where he suffered the injury that led to his surgery.
I’ll admit, it wasn’t easy singling out just a few baseball cards from yesteryear. There are so many players and cards that deserve spots here.
While I don’t have all the cards on the list, it did give me an opportunity to go through the thousands I have in my collection and reminisce about my childhood. Hopefully you were able to do the same!
Any favourite cards you would like to add to the list or ones we overlooked? Make sure to drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for reading!