Ken Sanders – 1977 Topps

November 9, 2010

Finally, A Decent Airbrushing

No, I don’t have a man-crush on Night Owl, but his 1975 Topps blog is one of the best single season blogs I’ve seen. It also helps that it’s right up my alley, since I had some 1972 and 1974 cards, a smattering of 1975 and 1976 and went full bore for the first time in 1977 – thanks to me finally being allowed to ride my bike into downtown so I could buy packs for .15 at the MediSave.

Today, his post is on Mr. Sanders, pictured above. Ken is a prime example of the mercurial tendencies of relievers. Yes, a few, like Rivera, Hoffman, etc. are consistent year over year in their prime. But many are not. Closers and short relievers are very much a ‘what have you done for me lately’ occupation.

It took Sanders forever and a day to get a foothold in the bigs, and when he finally did he came out of nowhere for huge success (albiet with a moribund Brewers team) and then had a fairly rapid decline into journeyman land.

After being a Rule V draftee by Boston, then being sent back to the A’s in a mid-season deal that was just shuffling paperwork (and three players each) around, Sanders was trapped in the A’s system before Charlie O. included him in a deal for Don Mincher.

Two great and one OK season for the Brewers later, he was on his way to Philly in a deal that actually gained each team some long term players, unusual for two horrid teams swapping bodies. (In this deal, the Phils wound up with Jim Lonborg and the Brewers Don Money, though Sanders was probably a key part of the deal thanks to his recent success.)

Sanders never played for Philly, as a month later he was packaged along with budding power hitter (and bust, it turned out) Joe Lis and a warm body for Cesar Tovar.

His season in Minnesota was a nightmare. He was supposed to be the stopper, but even though he was 8/11 in save situations his ERA was over 6 and he walked more than he struck out. Put on waivers by the Twins, the Indians claimed him and he turned it around, going 5-1 with 5 saves in a little over 2 months of work. 9 of his 15 appearances were ‘high leverage’ – so the Indians thought he had reclaimed whatever was missing over the past 1 1/2 seasons and he was back on track.

Not so much. Sanders came down with arm woes and gave up 10 runs in his last 5 1/3 innings for the Tribe. Signed by the Angels, he went back to the PCL and then came back up with the big club for the last 1 1/2 months.

The transaction wheel keeps spinning as he’s traded for Ike Hampton and becomes a Met. After spending half the year in Tidewater, he joined the Mets for the final half of the season, gaining 5 saves and posting a 2.30 ERA.

In 1976, Ken pitched well for the Mets, when he did pitch. I don’t know if it was lingering injuries or lack of opportunity, but through August 2 he had a great 1.47 ERA…in just 36 2/3 innings…a 1-2 record with 1 save and no holds.

He was the ‘garbage man’. To be fair, though Seaver, Koosman and Matlack completed 47 games that season between them, so basically the relievers were fighting for time when Lolich and Swan pitched.

Even though the Mets had a decent record, they weren’t going to win the pennant race. Kansas City was fighting off Oakland and in one of those late-September deals, the Royals bought his contract to add depth to the pen. He pitched 3 innings giving up 3 hits and 3 walks. I don’t know if he got a taste of a playoff share, but he was there jumping on a pile when they clinched the division I bet.

The Royals released Sanders in mid-December, he signed with the Brewers, went to AAA and then retired.

After all of that, I want you to look at the picture. Even as an 11-year old in the summer of 1977, I knew an airbrush con-job when I saw one. That was the year of the first Mariners and Blue Jay cards. But this didn’t look like an airbrush to me. It looked pretty darn much like they actually got a shot of Sanders in his fleeting 2 weeks as a Royals pitcher.

But now…while it still is a very good job on the alteration, I noticed something. The players in the background don’t look like Royals. If I recall, the Royals that season had NOB (name on back) and the team in the field has NNOB.

Minor detail. But an 11-year old isn’t going to worry about fonts and uniforms. I waited until I was 12 for that.



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