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5 Things I Learned from Bob Locker, a Major League Baseball Player

In June of 1975, a Chicago Spring was wrapping up and so was Bob Locker. At the Cubs clubhouse, he shook teammate’s hands and wished them well.

“Everyone was kinda shocked,” Bob recalled. “When someone’s released they just pack their bags and get out of the clubhouse. So they’re gone before anyone knows what happened.”

Meet Bob

I first knew of Bob Locker by way of a 1975 baseball card. He’s sporting a look Tom Selleck imitated years later on TV in Magnum PI.


Then I discovered something unusual. Eight years ago Bob and former teammate Jim Bouton, both in their 70s, teamed up to promote Marvin Miller’s election to the Hall of Fame. Bob published a website called Thanks Marvin.

What’s the motivation for someone who last played 43 years ago to spin up a web site in their retirement years for no personal gain?

That interested me, so I dug in and read about Bob:

  • The back of a 1968 baseball card mentiones he was “nothing short of sensational last season.” He led both leagues in 1967 for games played and was third  in saves.
  • By the end of 1972, he earned a World Series Championship ring.
  • He’s ranked as an all-time Top 50 relief pitcher by Paul Votano in Late and Close: A History of Relief Pitching.
  • Bob persevered twice as long as the average player.

Usually that’s where my research stops: athlete, nice stats, end of story.

But the more I read, the more I discovered a broader impact and lessons I could learn from. First about Marvin Miller’s impact on sports players and of Bob’s own contributions. Then about things that go beyond stats and rings.

Bob’s journey is full of lessons that transcend baseball…

1. Focus on Your Strengths

Improve what you can to be a contender.

Bob had a depth perception problem so he couldn’t field or hit very well. So he focused on what he could do better.

“I always felt like I was not the most talented athlete. I was physically fine and could throw hard and could run,” Bob said. “Which led me to believe boy I’d better run as much as I can to be in better shape than anybody else because I don’t have all the tools.”

Bob emulated other specialist ball players. “Hoyt Wilhelm was absolutely amazing but of course he couldn’t throw hard and didn’t need to because he absolutely mastered the knuckleball.”

He pushed himself to be the best player he could be – not just physically, but also mentally. He kept index cards with other players’ batting habits and how umps called his pitches.

“I never thought I’d be a major league player but once I got an opportunity, I tried to maximize it and I think that’s why I ended up in the majors and was able to stay there and do reasonably well.”

Bob at age 31 with his first team, the White Sox, in the 5th year of his MLB career (from an unpublished negative that was considered for the 1969 Topps card set)

2. Think Different

Follow the crowd or do something completely different – as long as it works for you.

There are references to Bob as a unique a free spirit or an oddball. He did “odd” things like run with a weighted vest.

“It had sacks of BBs around the vest so you’re running with 20 pounds more than you weigh. And they thought that was pretty weird,” Bob said, “And maybe I was but I’m sure that’s the reason after doing that for about 10 years that I was still able to outrun almost all the players on the team.”

Bob also trained with Bill Bonham, a Cubs teammate with the same mindset.

“We did arm strengthening exercises, which probably prolonged my career,” Bob recalled. They also stretched their arms. “Most of the players are saying what the heck are you doing?” Those asking were told arm stretching was bad.  “That was the only reason I was an oddball because I did things that to me at least made sense.”

Thinking different leads to trying new things even if nobody else is doing it. Sometimes you fail, but you’ll also succeed sometimes. In the long run, that’s what might make all the difference.

After a rough start in 1969, Bob was sent to the Seattle Pilots where he played with Jim Bouton (from a postcard)

3. Be Confident

A positive mindset leads to confidence. And with confidence, you’ll achieve more than you thought you could.

“I grew up in a small town in Iowa,” Bob said. “My mother was an amazing person and she certainly influenced my life. And I think she created this kind of positive attitude just by her own demeanor.”

Everyone has doubts or gets nervous, from sports players to someone speaking up in a work group setting.

“It’s a matter of believing in yourself, self-confidence,” is how Bob sees it. “If I went in and they started to hit the ball hard. I’d say to myself I’m better than that, I can get this guy out. I think that’s very important. There were many very talented minor league players that never made the majors because they ran into a slump and couldn’t get out over the hump.”

Kyle Schwarber, rehabbing for the 2016 World Series, was quoted by 60 Minutes as saying, “I just tell myself over and over again that you know, I’m a good hitter, like I can do this.”

But back in the 70’s players didn’t openly talk much about it. “Players would just never talk about the fact that they weren’t on top of their game and that they had to do something to correct it,” Bob said. “They were pretty much a macho group but I knew what they felt like underneath, they just didn’t really admit it.”

Everyone struggles at some point. Confronting it with confidence is how you can get past it – by believing in yourself.

“[Bill Bonham] was sagely enough probably the only guy that I met in baseball who did exactly like I did. He admitted his forthcomings, he was not ashamed to say hey I was scared,” Bob remembered. “And he had a very successful career because he had a lot of guts and determination. We kind of fed off one another.”

4. Be Persistent

There are times in life when it’s excruciating to keep going. Some call it the grind. That’s when persisting matters the most.

“I gave up runs in consecutive ballgames,” Bob said. “I just kept pushing on and fairly soon after that I got a little bit more comfortable.”

Bob pushed through the grind in workouts and rehab and in thinking of ways to improve to get an edge.

“When I ran into a hard day”, Bob remembered, “I tried to analyze and come back whenever my next opportunity was with that completely out of my mind and using what went wrong to my advantage. And by doing that repeatedly I didn’t fall into those protected slumps. I saw a lot of players even at a major league level have a really good year and then go back and have a horrible year.”

The Pilots transformed into the Milwaukee Brewers where he played briefly (from a 1994 Miller Brewing card). Tony at Off Hiatus Baseball shared Bob’s McDonald’s Brewers card here 

5. Help Others

Help others when you can. One day you may need help yourself.

Years ago, Bob went to a baseball reunion in Florida. There he met players having a tough time financially. By then, pensions had become a thing in baseball, but these guys weren’t eligible because they finished playing before 1947.

In 1994, The Chicago Tribune wrote about Bob’s petitioning of the Player’s Association and the Commissioner’s office. His petition was for a small benefit payment to about 130 former players. There was a pension surplus so the impact would’ve been minimal.

There was general support from retired players at the time, but not enough support among the active players to approve it. “They had no reason to go want to out there and ride their Palomino trying to get something that didn’t help them but it certainly seemed very logical to me,” Bob recalled.

In situations like that, it’s easy to do nothing.

In the Cubs 60 Minutes news story, Theo Epstein said “players that tend to respond to adversity the right way, and triumph in the end are players with strong character. If you have enough guys like that in the clubhouse you have an edge on the other team.”

That’s critical so I’ll repeat it. When you have people like Bob in your clubhouse or in your life, you and your group ends up with an edge in baseball or in life. This is the type of person I want to be my friend or my mentor. The strength of that person’s character builds you up and makes you better and stronger.

These are people that’ll do the right thing even when nobody’s watching. For most people, that gives them a true satisfaction that money can’t buy (to use a cliché).

Those retired players did eventually get a pension. “And that was during a time when baseball was striking and owners and players were at loggerheads,” Bob recalled. The Player’s Association didn’t do anything, but the Owner’s Association stepped up to make a difference. “Eventually they did it fairly quietly… but at least it happened.”

It happened in part because people like Bob stepped up and did something.

Bob played with Oakland from 1970-72 (from team photo before the 1972 Mustache Gang)


Towards the end of our discussion, Bob shared some principles he lives by. He didn’t recall who told him about these. If you’re to believe the Internet, they originate in a George Washington Burnap book, and I think they apply to anyone.

Here they are in Bob’s words:

  • “You need something to do — that’s very important”
  • “Something or someone to love — and that can be some thing, it doesn’t have to be someone but for many of us that’s the case”
  • “And then something to hope for”

“If you have those three things in front of you. It’s kind of like baseball, if you have those to keep you strong you can get through many adversities including a slump.”

I appreciate Bob’s generosity in sharing insights that inspire and reinforce these lessons and principles for me. I shared this story so others can decide for themselves whether they can apply these in their own lives.


Bob showed up with the some of most historically interesting teams and places during the 1970’s:

  • Seattle Pilots in their only year of baseball and at the epicenter of Jim Bouton’s Ball Four epic
  • Milwaukee Brewers in their inaugural year
  • The Oakland A’s dominant period and in a World Series
  • The Cubs, who hadn’t won a World Series for so long, but were on the verge of their best pennant run since 1945

It wasn’t just Forest Gump right-place-right-time luck that landed him there. I think luck plays a big role for everyone, but more is needed. Teams sought out his skills because Bob persistently built up his strengths and confidence, and he wasn’t afraid to experiment to find what worked. He was the best player he could be.

After 10 years in the major leagues, he left the clubhouse and got on a plane destined for the Bay Area and a different life. He’d continue to be the best person he could be.

Bob at the Cubs clubhouse circa 1975 (from a postcard). There are many more details to Bob’s baseball career that you can read out here and here.

©2018 All Rights Reserved

Card Spotlight: 1976 SSPC Countdown Carbo 411, Rader 59 (#15)

Facial Expressions.

This set is chock full of facial expressions. Here’s a tangent: I don’t really use that expression “chock full” – it just popped in my head as I was writing. It reminds me of Chock full o’Nuts, a brand of coffee that I didn’t grow up drinking but somehow remember.

The story goes: a guy owned nut store in the 1920’s and those morphed into a chain of coffee stores that morphed into coffee sold in grocery stores. At some point Jackie Robinson worked for the company with the oddball name.

Speaking of nuts, I haven’t counted, but I’d bet this set has more nutty, oddball expressions than most others.


Hey Bernie, what do you think of Chock full o’Nuts? Oh, it can’t be that bad…

Carbo played for the Reds previously and still had connections and friendships from his stint with Cincinnati. Then he had to compete with them and lose in the 1975 World Series. Sometime that’s how life works out – right place, wrong team. It’s the journey that matters.


Doug Rader on the left looks like he had a second cup of coffee. This card shows him in the new Astros uniform (introduced in 1975 to commemorate the Astrodome’s 10th anniversary). It also has a clear view of a circular black 40 patch. That’s a tribute to Doug’s former teammate Don Wilson, who died under mysterious circumstances in 1975. On the right, aside from his toned down Topps-approved expression, you can see Doug in the 1974 uniform.

Public Service announcement for me and you… If you’re looking for SSPC cards from this set, I have almost 70 on COMC here and many more that I can mail out. If you want a bunch and write a blog, contact me to work something out.

Card Spotlight: 1976 SSPC Countdown Milan 536, Mays Score 595 (#16)


Interviews happen all the time in life and so do speeches. Microphones help with both. When microphones are around, something important is happening. I need to pay attention.

I have no idea how many cards of players with microphones exist. But they’re not common – I can’t recall even one in the 1975 Topps set. But this sets got two.

Is this thing on?

There’s Felix Millan. They didn’t have wireless microphones back then. Maybe he’s in the middle of an interview. Is he talking to Keith Olbermann? Don’t know. But I just realized I hadn’t noticed how concerned Felix looks on the 75.

Willie Mays shows up twice in both sets (though in Topps it’s the MVP reprint subset). In this SSPC checklist card, he’s being interviewed by Herb Score, who was a radio play-by-play announcer at the time. This is a good read about Herb, who may have been one of the best pitchers had it not been for an unlucky accident. Stats never tell you the full story about a person.

If you’re looking for SSPC cards from this set, I have almost 70 on COMC here (including a couple of Mays cards).

Card Spotlight: 1976 SSPC Countdown Doyle 407, Hargan 254, Stargell 573, Hands 253 (#17)

Candid Photography.

Sometimes what makes photos good is that they’re candid. Maybe the intent was for a posed shot, but they were taken a moment before the player was ready.

The 1976 SPC set has some of those and they end up shows you guys that look more approachable. I can relate to them.

Unlike Topps which had the luxury of selecting from many photographs, SSPCs likely had a limited selection since they had to get in and out with their photography as fast as they could. And that turned out to be a pretty good thing for us.

Steve Hargan has that split second of surprise. That’s what my face looks like when I forgot to take the trash out (and the truck’s passing by). A good complementary card to Topps Hargan.

Denny is lost in thought. A few more seconds and he’d be looking at us, or maybe they’d make him look at the sky. This pensive state is much more interesting. It’s the look I have wondering about upgrading my Topps Doyle card full of print streaks.


I can’t relate to Topps Willie Stargell. There’s no way I could get away with looking that cool swinging a bat. SSPC Stargell is what I’d look like when a prowler woke me out of bed as I scrambled out with my bat… ok, half true. I’d be much less intimidating until I spent years building up to those Stargell muscles.

And some players look just the same in Topps as SSPC, like Bill Hands. He’s ready. He’s been ready for 10 minutes and now he’s annoyed. Will you just take the picture? We’ve all been there… relatable.

By the way, I’ve finally got some extra SSPC card available on COMC (look here for SSPC or here for over 800 other cards).

Cards That Never Were and Topps Bunt

This post is indirectly related to 1975 cards. It’s about the Cards That Never Were blog that I follow. It houses custom/concept cards including some that resemble the 1975 set.

Today the Topps Bunt app announced card designs from the CTNW blog. Whatever you feel about collecting cards on the app, I think this bit of news is pretty cool.

Update: John Hogan, wrote about it

These are popular. Below is the announcement and all the cards.

Hank Aaron is the award card and these are now sold out.


The card backs look like this:

Mail Call: 2017 Opening Day

Opening Day is about starting fresh. For me that means catching up, which starts with writing.

And the first thing I needed to write about is a very generous card care package from Fuji. Queue Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show thank you writing music…

First up is Johnny Bench from the 2010 Topps Vintage Legends set (I don’t know why 2002 Topps is printed on the card). I have a card from this set because it’s a 1975 look-alike with Babe Ruth.

2010 VLC Johnny Bench  2010 VLC Babe Ruth

The Bench card has a familiar photo. It was also used in the 2011 Topps Lineage Mini set. I’m looking for his mini card so if anyone has one to trade then, you know, get in touch.

The backs tell us how these players would rank against future players. Apparently good enough to keep the legend status intact.

I also have a couple 1991 Upper Deck Baseball Heroes cards, but hadn’t seen this one:

This went right in the 1975 theme folder. The back tells us Joe was so awesome in 1975 that he was named MVP. Then he did it again in 1976. There’s also mention of Ernie Banks as the only other NL player with back-to-back MVP years.

I like Then & Now cards. And I also like the Father & Son sets. Here’s one of Tony Perez and son Eduardo:

In 1982, Topps produced parallel cards for the Reds and Red Sox team sets. The packs had 3 player cards plus a team “header card” with the team name and a Topps ad on the back. The Oddball Collector’s complete write-up covers other differences between the base and Coca-Cola sets.

Fuji included a couple of these Coke cards. Here Dave Concepcion and Dan Driessen are next to their younger 1975 selves:

The signatures are similar, but a little different. What else is different? You’ve got caps vs. batting helmets. Dan moved to first base by 1982. Topps added their logo. There’s the Coke logo, which I like. The Red Sox version also included a Bringham’s logo. It starts to look like Times Square with all the branding.

The 1982 base set has a green back, but the Coke versions are red, which works much better for a Reds or Red Sox theme.

Speaking of themes, are you sensing one yet? The package was full of Reds and Red Sox players and logo stickers.

Who doesn’t like stickers? First up are three Fleer Cloth Patches. Are these stickers or patches or both? I don’t know. They were made between the late 60’s and mid-70’s.

The Fleer Sticker Project blog is my go to for Fleer Sticker info. There’s a post about the Reds patches, where I learned there are at least 3 variations of this one:

The other two patches were coming off the backing paper:

That was fine because unlike cards, stickers are meant to be stuck on things. These didn’t stick, but that’s ok because they slid in the binders:

Reds Sticker on Binder


The rest of the stickers might also go on a binder — ones like this one from the 2001 Opening Day Set (Topps first foray into baseball card stickers):

Then there’s this 1989 Fleer sticker:

It has some historical information on the back. I’m not familiar with 1980’s Red Sox history, so had to check on the Joe Morgan reference. It’s not that Joe Morgan from the Reds.

And it wasn’t just logos, but also uniforms:

Here’s the last sticker, a 1991 Upper Deck Reds Hologram. It’s a super cool cross between the Reds logo and Ghostbusters:

There were a few more cards, but I need to wrap this up. Thanks Fuji for the cards and your most excellent attitude. You’re the best!

1975 Topps Military Service for Veteran’s Day

This is a 1975 Topps-style tribute to the service men and women who’ve served to protect all of us.

On this Veteran’s Day, I’m sharing five cards from the set that pay homage to ballplayers’ military service. I like that Topps included those stats on the card backs.

Garry Maddox – Card No. 240

1975 2401975 240b

Garry served two years in the United States Army from 1969 to 1970 in Vietnam.


Al Bumbry – Card No. 358

1975 3581975 358b

Al also served in the United States Army. He led a platoon in Vietnam and was awarded a Bronze Star.


Dave Goltz – Card No. 419

1975 419 1975 419b

Dave served in the Army Reserve when called to duty in 1969 to be a helicopter mechanic.


Ed Figueroa – Card No. 476

1975 476 1975 476b

Ed joined the United States Marine Corps and did a tour in Vietnam in the 1969 season.


Jerry Terrell – Card No. 654

1975 6541975 654b

Jerry served in Vietnam in 1969.


There are other players from the set who weren’t acknowledged on the ’75 cards primarily because they who served but before they started playing in the majors. These included Bill Campbell, who “saw combat duty in Viet Nam as a radio operator” according to the back of his 1980 Topps card; Jim Bibby, a truck driver in Vietnam; plus others like Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan who served in the Reserves.

Their contributions like the countless non-ballplayers are in our thoughts today.

Blog Inspirations: A Cracked Bat and 1991 Petro Canada

I didn’t expect to be away from writing for so long, but sometimes life throws you curveballs.

Luckily this isn’t a paid gig so any pressure to produce content is solely my own. I’ve gotten over feeling forced to post often. That keeps this a fun hobby and not a drag. I write because I like it and if someone reads and comments, that’s icing (and I like that too). Anyways…

Two things happened during this time and they’re both related to Julie from A Cracked Bat blog. Thing one is she was nice and posted a welcome comment on a blog I started on Blogger earlier this year (and also put on hold).

The reason I read baseball card blogs is it leads to inspiration and discovery. So thing two is Julie wrote a post about getting some cards in the mail. These included Petro Canada oddballs that really caught my eye – they’re 3D pop outs. How cool is that?

I checked COMC and they had a bunch (see 1991 Petro-Canada All Star FanFest Stand-Ups). They’re not super cheap but also not that expensive (except for players with a single card for sale, which are hit by limited supply price distortion).

So I tagged a George Brett on my watch list to mull it over. But eventually I had a flash of insight about how I could really fit one into my collection: a 1975 tribute card.

The back of Carlton Fisk’s card has this one-liner: “Hit dramatic game winning  HR in ’75 World Series against Cincinnati” – it’s an important one-liner. Plus it’s Carlton Fisk in 3-D! So I clicked buy and the rest is history.

I haven’t brought myself to convert it into 3-D mode so if you want to see one opened up, that’s a good reason to meander over to Julie’s post that started this.

I also wasn’t able to find much about these cards until I hit a dormant blog’s post. Apparently these were handed out at the 1991 All Star Game in Toronto (now the name of this series makes sense).

Thanks Julie for your blog, I really enjoy reading it!

1991 Petro-Canada 007 1991 Petro-Canada 007b