Sunday, March 27, 2011

1961 Topps Phillies

1961 Topps #468, #93, #433 and #502
The 1961 Phillies lost 107 games in 1961, their highest loss total since losing 108 games in 1945.  Fortunately, they haven't come close to matching that loss total since.  It's almost fitting that perhaps the drabbest baseball card set in Topps' 60-year history features cards of the worst Phillies team of the past 60 years.

The Set
1961 Topps #468 (Back)
Number of cards in the set:  The set is numbered to 589, but cards 426, 587 and 588 were never issued.
My very brief thoughts on the set:  While the 1960 Topps set seems classic with an innovative design, the 1961 Topps set seems dull with an extremely minimalist design.  However, I'd still chose this set over the 1957 Topps set solely for the first ever league leader cards and checklists included within the set.
Notable competition:  Post issued a 200-card set with its cereal boxes, including 10 Phillies cards.

1961 Phillies
Record and finish:  47-107, dead last in the National League, 46 games behind the first place Reds, and 17 games behind the 7th place Cubs.
Key players:  Don Demeter was acquired from the Dodgers in May, and he'd lead the team in home runs (20) and RBIs (68).  Johnny Callison (.266, 9 home runs, 47 RBIs) and Tony Gonzalez (.277, 12 home runs, 58 RBIs) didn't have great years, but their unremarkable stats were the best the offense had to offer.  Pancho Herrera hit 13 home runs and drove in 51 runs, but he also struck out 120 times.  Art Mahaffey led the pitching staff with 11 wins, but he also lost 19.  The next two starters with the most wins were John Buzhardt and Chris Short who each won 6 games.  Robin Roberts played in his last season with the Phillies, going 1-10 with a 5.58 ERA.
Key events:  The '61 Phillies put the Ug in Ugly.  They lost a record straight 23 games in a row.  The Orioles lost 21 games to start the 1988 season, but no other team has even come close to matching the futility of the '61 Phillies club.

1961 Topps #20, #103, #299 and #411
1961 Phillies in 1961 Topps
Cards needed for a complete team set:  There are 30 cards in a 1961 Topps Phillies team set.  The tally so far - 65 Topps Phillies cards from the '60s and 238 Topps Phillies cards from 1951 to 1961.
Who’s in:  24 cards feature players who actually suited up with the Phillies in 1961.  The other six cards feature three guys who didn't play with the team that year (Al Neiger, Tep Lepcio and Ruben Gomez), a manager card for Gene Mauch, a team card and a card for 1950 National League MVP Jim Konstanty.  Topps featured a subset of league MVPs from 1950 through 1960 on cards 471 through 486.

1961 Topps #3, #219, #359 and #479
Who’s out:  Third baseman Charley Smith, acquired from the Dodgers in May with Demeter for Turk Farrell and Joe Koppe got left out of the set completely.  Relievers Jack Baldschun (65 games, 503 with 3 saves) and Ken Lehman (41 games, 1-1) saw significant time out of the bullpen but neither appear in the set.  And Short (6-12 in 39 games with a 5.94 ERA) will be a recurring name on this list, as he didn't have his first Topps card until 1967.
Phillies on other teams:  Demeter appears as a Dodger on card #23 and outfielder Wes Covington (see below) appears as a Brave on card #296.  Farrell appears as a Dodger on card #522 although he's sporting a Phillies hat.  Finally, Elmer Valo wrapped up his 20-year career with 50 games with the Phils, mostly as a pinch-hitter.  He appears with the Twins on card #186 and the Phillies picked him up following his release from the Twins in June.
What’s he doing here:  Neiger is perhaps the biggest stretch, especially since his card indicates he's a "1961 Rookie" within a gold star.  He pitched in six games with the Phillies in 1960.
Cards that never were candidates:  Smith, Demeter, Covington, Baldschun, Lehman and Short.
Favorite Phillies card:  I'll go with the rookie card of one Clarence "Choo Choo" Coleman, although I also really like Roberts' final card with the Phillies as an active player.

2003 Topps All-Time Fan Favorites #97, 2010 Topps Heritage #154, #479 and #78
Other Stuff
Recycled:  Topps used this design for its 2010 Heritage set, and I've featured most of the Phillies cards in previous posts.
Blogs/Websites:  The keeper of the Sports Card Blogroll, JayBee, has created the Topps 300.  Basically, this is his attempt to compile the 300 best baseball cards from Topps' sixty year history, five cards per set.  He's chosen some great cards, and the 1961 proposed representatives can be found here.
Did You Know?: Wes Covington was a busy man in 1961.  In May, the White Sox selected him off waivers from the Braves.  In June, the White Sox included him in an eight-player trade with the Athletics.  In July, the Athletics traded him to the Phillies, where he'd spend the next 4 1/2 seasons.  He played in 101 games in 1961 as follows - 9 with the Braves, 22 with the White Sox, 17 with the Athletics and 57 with the Phillies.

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