Why No Mickey Mantle?

It was probably back in 1978 when I wrote my first blog.  In 1978, the term blog wasn’t used much.  If you wrote a blog, it was called a first-person story.  It’s a story the writer can tell as they see it from their eyes.

George Seeley was the editor and owner of the Milford Times in Milford, Nebraska.  First, I wrote stories about my summer recreation schedule and the softball teams I coached.  The next fall, George asked me to write high school sport stories about the Milford High School football and basketball team.

The Milford Times was a weekly newspaper.  Each Sunday, I would sit down with the head football or basketball coach and talk about the week’s games.  I got paid by the column inch.  I always had enough material to keep me in noon lunches as my job as the junior high mathematics teacher.

After the 1978 basketball season, George asked me if I would be interested in writing features in the summer after school was out.  I was thrilled to accept but I was aware enough to know I had a lot to learn.  That spring, I enrolled at a Beginning Reporting class at the University of Nebraska.

I asked the professor if I could take the class assignments and bend them a little, so I could publish them in the Milford Times.  He agreed and a semester of my best learning experience began.  I did stories of all kinds.  One human interest story about a blind disc jockey at a Seward radio station was published in the University newspaper.

The final assignment was a first-person story.  I really wasn’t worried about my grade, but my papers had started with C‘s and had gradually gotten a little better.  I was really worried about the first-person story.  The professor said it was the toughest type of journalism.

I decided to go back to my childhood and the sport I loved the most to get material for my story.  I went home and dug out a box of baseball cards.  After looking them over, I discovered I had five baseball cards of Virgil Trucks, and three cards of Clay Dalrymple and Smokey Burgess.

From my childhood memories, I easily recalled how I could get several cards of not-so-famous players, but I hardly ever got a card of a player from my favorite team, the New York Yankees.  I had a few Yankees, but every time I bought a pack of five cards and anxiously tore open the wrapper with the certainty there would be a Mickey Mantle or a Roger Maris, my two favorite Yankee players, I would be disappointed.

I did my research for the assignment.  A call to Topps Baseball Cards got me in touch with the man in charge of player research.  He assured me that my failure to get my two Yankee stars was just the luck of the draw.  He told me 1 million cards are issued of each player and distributed evenly around the country.  Forgive me for not believing him.

I even called the telephone information operator to see if a Virgil Trucks lived in Birmingham, Alabama, his home town.  He did live in Birmingham and his number was listed.  When I called him, he was more than happy to talk to me.

It had been 18 years since Trucks had retired from baseball.  Still, he received mail on a consistent basis with his baseball card and a stamped, return envelope.  I guess cards with his real signature were worth a lot of money.

I loved writing that story.  George even let me use his newspaper phone for the long-distance calls I made in getting my research.  He published the story in the Milford Times, even though it had no local interest.  My Journalism professor gave me an “A” on the paper, my only one of the course.  I was ready for blogs to become popular, even if I had never heard of a blog.

Thinking back to 1962, I knew every Yankee and can still name all the starters.  Most are well-known like Yogi Berra at catcher or Moose Skowron at first base.  The one position I can fool almost anyone is the left fielder.  It was Hector Lopez, although he lost his job the next year to Rookie of the Year in 1962, Tom Tresh.

The thing that really stands out now, all these years later, is the accomplishments of the players who I owned multiple cards.  I hated to see another Clay Dalrymple come up in my new packet of cards, but I discovered he was one of the best defensive catcher that ever played for the Philadelphia Phillies.

Smokey Burgess may not have made much an impression on me as a 12-year old, but he had his accomplishments, too.  He was a decent catcher, but Burgess was one of the greatest pinch hitters of all-time.

Then there was Virgil Trucks.  Trucks had quite a history in baseball.  If he had played more years for decent teams, he could have been voted into Baseball’s Hall of Fame.  He still won 177 games while playing for several teams.

While pitching in the Detroit Tigers minor league system, he threw four no-hitters, a major league record.  He pitched for the Washington Senators one year and had a 5 – 17 won-loss record.  That only tells a small part of the story.  When I talked to Trucks in 1978, he told me two of those wins were no-hitters.  In one of them, he went into the ninth inning with the score tied 0 – 0.  The no-hitter was preserved when Vic Powers hit a ninth inning, walk-off homer.

Trucks actually pitched for the Yankees at the end of his career.  He retired and coached in the major leagues for a while before settling back in his hometown as a recreation director in Birmingham.  Trucks wrote a respected book on the art of pitching.  When he died in 2013 at the age of 95, he was the last living pitcher to pitch against the Chicago Cubs in a World Series game.

It makes me wonder why I was disappointed to get so many Virgil Trucks cards.  However, if Trucks, Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris all had 1 million cards made, I still am confused and disappointed I never got that Mickey Mantle card.

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