Babe Ruth, Japanese Menko style card

Babe Ruth was a legend in Japan, as he was all around the world. I didn’t want anyone to think this was an authentic Menko, so I made it full size, 2.5 x 3.5 inches.  The artists who illustrated the Menko cards made in Japan after WW2 really did some beautiful work, as you can see.  Menko is actually a game played by kids in Japan for hundreds of years, similar to the “pogs” game which was popular here during the 90s.

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Jim Bouton, 1978 Atlanta Braves – comeback player of the century

If it was an actual “Hall Of Fame” in which players were inducted for being famous, Jim would already be in Cooperstown.  In ’78 he proved what he was made of, and silenced all criticism for all time by successfully pitching his way to a legitimate spot on a big league roster.  That’s the kind of guy Jim Bouton is.  If he decides to do something, it’s gonna happen.

Click the link below to hear Jim Bouton discuss his incredible comeback and other interesting tidbits in the following 4 minute sound file, a vintage radio interview:  Bouton radio interview

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Kenny Stabler, 1973 Oakland Raiders backup quarterback

The 1972 divisional playoff game against Pittsburgh was where Stabler first impressed football fans.  An injury to Lamonica brought “the Snake” into the game in the 4th quarter.  He scrambled for a 30 yard TD to put the Raiders in the lead, but the “immaculate reception” – a deflected pass from Bradshaw to Franco Harris – gave Pittsburgh the victory in the final 30 seconds.

I once saw Kenny from across a smoke-filled room at a crowded place on the gulf coast, directly on the Florida-Alabama line called the “Florabama” bar.  It was one of his hangouts and he lived nearby at the time. He was very shaggy, looked like Kenny Rogers’ younger brother. He was surrounded by friends, including several of what we used to call “hot chicks”.

Stabler came up to the NFL when Oakland had Lamonica and a vintage George Blanda, two of the most prolific passers in football.  Lamonica was a guy who could throw 30+ TDs in a 14 game season, which he did twice.  Blanda was even better.  Not only was he football’s most reliable field goal kicker, he was the greatest “closer” in NFL history.  Blanda could and would come in and engineer a winning rally in the final quarter.  The proof is in his career numbers at Oakland: He came to the team at age 40 and retired at 48. During those 8 seasons, George completed a mere 119 passes. astonishingly, 23 of them touchdowns.  At that level of ability, in a full season as a starter he would have thrown 75 or more TDs!

So John Madden really didn’t NEED Stabler, and tried to ignore the earnest young man for awhile – but over time he learned that Kenny was determined and very cool under pressure – and a quick learner.  He had a weaker arm than most NFL quarterbacks, but he eventually became a very accurate thrower with nearly pinpoint control and timing.

Later on, as everyone knows, Kenny liked to party.  Good for him.  He worked hard to earn it first, then he enjoyed the fruit of his labors.  I can’t see anything wrong with that.

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Mickey Mantle’s first year as a pro, 1949 at Independence

Class D Ball at Independence in those days, but Harry Truman threw out their first ball that year.

After a month, Mantle was batting .210 and had made a ton or errors.  First baseman Jim Bello hurt his feelings by calling him an “iron glove” in the field.  Mickey was ready to quit baseball and come home.

His dad came for a visit, and gave Mickey some encouragement and a kick in the pants, and things soon got better for the 17 year-old.

This is a colorization of the only existing image of Mantle at Independence.

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Fritz Pollard, 1921 Akron Pros – The Jackie Robinson of Football

Fritz was a tremendous athlete, the first black star of pro football.  When pro football started, there were a few black players between 1920 and 1926.  One of them was Fritz, who was the first black star player, the first black quarterback, and also the first black head coach in the NFL.

Starting in 1926, the color bars in the NFL began to go up.  The nine black players in the league, including Pollard, were drummed out, never to return.

Fritz was one-half American Indian, and obtained a degree in chemistry from Brown University.

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