My Favorite Padres Baseball Cards From My Childhood.

Like many people, one of my first real introductions to the game of baseball was via baseball cards. When I was a kid, around 2nd and 3rd grade, it was almost an epidemic. It seems as if EVERY little boy in my school and neighborhood seemed to catch baseball card fever; even those who didn’t seem to like or play the game. It was just the “cool” thing to do. I stopped collecting cards around the end of junior high (approx. 1994), but I still have my collection all packed away safely in boxes.

When thinking of an idea for a new post, it crossed my mind to do a list of my favorite Padres cards from my childhood and share thoughts and memories related to them. Yes, it’s kinda nerdy, but this whole blog is essentially about the nostalgic (and often nerdy) side of Padres baseball, so I’m ok with that. With that said, I look forward to receiving feedback and seeing everyone else’s favorite Padres cards. I’m certain that some of you will bring some to my attention that I forgot about over the years.

Steve Garvey 1987 Topps.

I’ve never been quite sure why I’ve always loved this card. Maybe because ’87 Topps is my favorite card set of all-time? Maybe it’s Steve Garvey looking super suave in his Padres brown? Maybe it’s the unconventional pose? Either way, it was one of the earliest cards I remember seeing and it always stuck with me. I still think it’s pretty sweet.

Somewhat related, even though I was pretty young, I remember knowing that there was something “weird” about Garvey that lead me to believe I shouldn’t be a big fan of his? Maybe I saw something on the news about his affairs or saw a “Steve Garvey Is Not My Padre” bumper sticker or something? Maybe a family member said something? It could have been simply the fact that he was known as a Dodger and not a Padre? Either way, at an early age, I took his time as a Padre with a grain of salt. Over the years, I’ve found this to be silly and really appreciate his time in San Diego. Hell, I even used him in my logo for this blog! Still, I’d love to get a “Steve Garvey Is Not My Padre” shirt one day.

Tony Gwynn & Benito Santiago Padres Leaders 1988 Topps.

When I first discovered baseball, Tony Gwynn and Benito Santiago were essentially gods to me. They were the faces of the organization and I thought there was no one cooler than those two guys. When I came across this Padres team leader card in a 1988 pack of Topps, my head about exploded. Gwynn AND Santiago on the same card? Still, when I look at it, I get stoked. Part of that surely has to do with how amazing their uniforms are, though.

Sandy Alomar Jr. 1989 Fleer.

Before becoming solidified big leaguers, I remember my dad telling me, to keep an eye on Roberto and Sandy Alomar. From that moment on, I was an Alomar super-fan and when the brothers broke into the big leagues and I started getting my hands on their cards, I was incredibly excited. There was something about this 1989 Fleer card that I just loved. Besides the fact that it was his rookie card, I loved that he’s (obviously) wearing the brown that I adored, has a smile on his face, and is in the squat for the photographer. If you ask me, this is baseball card perfection.

Joey Cora 1990 Donruss.

I thought Joey Cora was going to be a long-time Padre, but it was not meant to be. This assumption was based on nothing, whatsoever, besides the fact that I had a ton of his cards while he was in the organization and I took a liking to him. Plus his name was Joey, and that’s pretty cool, right? Unfortunately, he ended up only playing parts of three seasons in San Diego, but he did go on to have a solid career in the big leagues with other teams, including an All-Star season with the Mariners in 1997. Still, I’ll always think of him as a Padre.

I think anyone who grew up with baseball cards in this era would agree that 1990 Donruss was a terrible set. They were sold EVERYWHERE, aesthetically they were underwhelming, and I feel like the packs of cards often came warped inside the pack. Still, I loved this card. Besides the fact that Cora looks like a little leaguer on the front, the BACK mentioned that he was STABBED during the 1986 season and missed 8 weeks. As a kid, this absolutely blew my mind. I even remember talking to my mom about it and asking how he survived? In my head, being stabbed meant certain death and Cora was a total badass for surviving this. You can read about the incident HERE, thanks to the biggest Joey Cora fan on earth, Joe Lanek from Gaslamp Ball.

Tony Gwynn 1986 Topps.

1986 was over a year before I fell in love with baseball and started collecting cards, but this Tony Gwynn card was one of my favorites. This is due to the fact that it was one of the first cards I remember retroactively acquiring. 1986 seemed like an incredibly long time before my baseball emergence came to be, so this card seemed very “vintage” to me at the time. Plus it featured my favorite player, on my favorite team, so naturally, I fell in love with it.

Larry Bowa 1988 Topps.

This may seem like an odd choice for a favorite card, but for some reason, I was fascinated with it. I have no explanation for this, but I do remember thinking that the card was quite vibrant looking and that Larry Bowa looked young for a manager. The only manager I was probably familiar with at that point was Sparky Anderson, who seemed to be as old as time. I remember being bummed when I heard that Bowa was fired early in the 1988 season. I couldn’t understand why anyone would do such a thing. He seemed so cool to me.

Bruce Bochy 1988 Topps.

Much like the Larry Bowa card above, I also thought this card was very colorful and vibrant. In addition to this, I thought Bruce Bochy looked exactly what a baseball player is supposed to look like: grizzled, determined and wearing a cool uniform. I remember reading the back of this card and seeing that he was born in France and that fascinating me, due to my interest in geography at a young age. Plus it just seemed unreal that someone born in France would wind up in the big leagues.

It’s kind of odd, Bochy has already been in San Francisco for a decade, but I still think of him as a Padre, much like I do with Tim Flannery. Maybe I should get over that one day…

Ted Williams 1992 Upper Deck.

Anyone that knows me or reads my blogs, knows that I’m a sucker for the old Pacific Coast League. Something about the classic PCL just gets my nerdy baseball juices flowing. As I’ve mentioned here and on 90 Feet of Perfection, I remember my parents and grandmother telling me about going to Padres games back when they were a minor league team. I didn’t quite understand what they meant until I was a bit older, but the stories seemed cool to me and when Upper Deck released this Ted Williams card in 1992, I remember just looking at it in confusion and excitement.

I obviously knew who Ted Willams was at this point, but I had no idea that he played for the minor league Padres. When I came across this card, I remember squinting at the photo to make sure my eyes were not deceiving me. I thought there was NO way that Upper Deck would feature a Padres image from an era that I only heard about through family members. And Ted Williams playing for them was just too much for my young brain to comprehend.

Tony Gwynn 1992 Topps Stadium Club.

A close up of my baseball hero wearing the Oakley sunglasses that he helped popularize? Of course, I was going to love this card! For some reason, this card just really made me want to play baseball. The reflection in his sunglasses was interesting to me and it made me wanna be out taking BP.

I remember reading articles in Spring Training one year about Gwynn switching from traditional flip-down sunglasses to modern Oakley sunglasses. For some reason, it was a big deal and I was filled with a bit of pride that “my guy” was the first to do it. I could be wrong, but I believe that some old school baseball people were nit too stoked on them? Either way, this card is still awesome.

Padres Four Corners 1993 Upper Deck.

What can I say about this card that any other Padres fan from my generation didn’t already think? It was awesome and sparked optimism for a kid who only knew of the Padres as a being a losing organization. For a moment in time, it seemed like San Diego was stacking studs and it seemed as if a golden age of Padres baseball was on the horizon. Well, Tom Werner quickly shot that down, with an infamous fire sale that drained the organization of much of its talent. It’s still a bit saddening, but at least we will always have this awesome card featuring Gary Sheffield, Phil Plantier, Tony Gwynn, and Fred McGriff. Oh yeah, while they were not brown, those orange and blue uniforms look pretty damn sweet.

AND MY NUMBER ONE ALL-TIME FAVORITE CARD:

Tony Gwynn 1983 Fleer.

Like many people reading this, I pretty much worshiped Tony Gwynn as a kid. I had to get my hands on anything and everything that had Gwynn’s likeness on it, and this obviously meant his baseball cards. Up until 5th grade, the one Gwynn-related item that escaped me was one of his rookie cards. To me, it was the holy grail and the idea of owning one seemed like a far-fetched dream. I didn’t have the patience to save my allowance and spend it all on one item, so I usually spent my money on various, less expensive baseball card and comic book purchases.

Well, when Christmas of my 5th-grade year rolled around, my mom asked me what I wanted and my number one item was a Tony Gwynn rookie card. In fact, I’m pretty sure that’s ALL I wanted. I didn’t get my hopes up, though, because my mom played me good and let it be known that it would be hard to get, or too expensive, or some other excuse that escapes me at the moment. Either way, I believed her, and by the time Christmas came around, I gave up hope that I’d get the card. Well, what do you know? My mom came through and surprised me with the card! I was so happy that I got teary eyed as I held my 1983 Fleer Tony Gwynn rookie card.

This is easily one of the most memorable moments from my childhood. I can’t explain the card’s sentimental value, but to be honest, it doesn’t have a lot to do with baseball or Tony Gwynn, due to my mother passing away when I was in 12th grade. To this day, it reminds me of her and for that reason, this is my all-time favorite baseball card.

Padres Pics #9.

GWYNN.
tony-gwynn-safeEverything about this photo rules. From the dirt flying in the air, to both team’s colorful and unique uniforms, to the umpire’s expression and Tony Gwynn‘s body language, this photo is incredible. Oh yeah, if Gwynn said that you’re safe, then in all likelihood, you’re probably safe; so I’m going to assume that was the outcome of this play.

WILLIAMS.
Ted Williams San Diego Padres
Back in July, I made the trek to San Diego to check out the All-Star Game festivities. It was an incredible experience and one that I’ll never forget. In ways, it was baseball (and Padres) overload, but I enjoyed every second of it, especially the All-Star Game Fan Fest.

At Fan Fest, there was a comprehensive timeline on display of San Diego baseball, from the late 1800s to the current Padres. This obviously included the PCL Padres and included the above photo of Ted Williams, which was taken at Lane Field in 1937. I honestly thought I’d seen every documented photo of The Splendid Splinter during his time with the Padres, but apparently, I was wrong, as this one caught my eye and sparked my curiosity.

There’s something that I can’t quite put my finger on that I love about this photo. Maybe it’s old Lane Field behind him, in addition to the look on his face which reflects that he may not have been prepared to pose for the photo, as his bat is by his side and a teammate is sitting to his left. It’s just a great photo of a young man who’d one day be known as the greatest hitter of all time. (Image Source: Getty Images)

NIEKRO.
joe-niekro-padres
The former knuckleballer, Joe Niekro played in the big leagues for 22 seasons, spending time with 7 different teams. One of those teams were the San Diego Padres, whom he played with during the organization’s inaugural season of 1969. He won 8 games and lost 17, with an ERA of 3.70 over 202 innings. Unfortunately, Niekro didn’t use his knuckleball during his time in San Diego, as he started using it a few years later

Unfortunately, Niekro didn’t throw the knuckleball during his time in San Diego. The story goes that he started using it a few years later after joining his brother, Phil Niekro with the Braves. Joe was never the knuckleballer that his brother was, but he was still pretty great. If he had the pitch back in 1969, the end result of those 200 innings would’ve been quite interesting. For a 24-year-old kid on an expansion team, in his 3rd season in the big leagues, it was already respectable.

Padres Pics #6.

GWYNN.
Tony Gwynn Mets Slide
I came across this photo not long ago and fell in love with it. Tony Gwynn going in hard at second base, while Wally Backman of the Mets attempts to complete a double play. The dirt flying, Backman in the air and Gwynn’s #19 on his brown uniform; It doesn’t get much better than this.

USHER.
Bob Usher San Diego Padres
Bob Usher played professional baseball for parts of 14 seasons and spent time in the big leagues with the Reds, Cubs, Indians and Senators. He also spent time in the Pacific Coast League, where he played with the Angels and Padres. Known for his speed and strong arm, Usher was also a solid hitter. In his only full season with his hometown Padres (1956), he hit .350, while accumulating 208 base hits, which propelled him to the big leagues for one last stint. During Usher’s life in baseball he witnessed or took part in some notable moments in the history of the game that some of you may find interesting:

  1. When people think about legendary baseball brawls, they probably think of the Juan Marichal and John Roseboro brawl in 1965, or even the Braves and Padres brawl in 1984. However, one of the greatest brawls in history did not happen in the big leagues, but in the Pacific Coast League, during a Los Angeles Angels and Hollywood Stars game in 1953. Usher was in the middle of this mayhem and discussed his memories of how it went down in Graham Womack’s blog, “Baseball: Past and Present,” in an interview entitled “Remembering A Good Brawl.” It’s a great interview and the blog itself is incredible, especially if you love the history of the game.
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  2. As a teenager, Usher played on the San Diego American Legion Post No. 6 team that played in the 1940 American Legion World Series, held in Albemare, North Carolina. This is significant due to the fact that the two black members of his team were barred from playing in the final series. One of these players ended up being future Negro League star, John Ritchey. The man would one day be dubbed the “Jackie Robinson of the Pacific Coast League,” due to breaking the PCL color barrier with the Padres. To read more about this series and the ramifications of it, click HERE. A young Bob Usher is featured in the team photo, top row, 3rd from left.
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  3. 1958 was Usher’s last year in professional baseball and he spent it playing with the Miami Marlins of the International League, who were the AAA affiliate of the Phillies. This is significant due to the fact that the ageless wonder, Satchel Paige played on the Marlins and it was his last real season in professional baseball. As a 51 year old, Paige went 10-10 with a 2.95 ERA over 110 innings. Not bad for an old-timer.

In 2011, I met Usher at the Northern California Pacific Coast League Reunion and for a 87 year old, he was quite sharp, witty and took a liking to me. Needless to say, I enjoyed my time hanging out with him. To see a photo of myself along with him, click HERE, where he is to the left of me. Also featured in this photo is former PCL Padres Pitcher, Pete Mesa (far left) and my friend and baseball historian, Bill Swank. Unfortunately, both Mesa and Usher have since passed away. I always meant to go to Usher’s house here in the Bay Area and interview him, but I never got around to it. For this, I’ll always kick myself.

THE FRIAR.
PCL Padres Friar Carlos Hadaway
In 1961, the Pacific Coast League Padres held a contest in which fans were encouraged to design a team mascot. A 19 year local kid named Carlos Hadaway won the contest by creating the now beloved San Diego Padres Friar. However, the original friar was not in his classic swinging pose, as this was implemented in the late 1960s and is supposedly based on THIS photo.

Something I was not aware of until recently is that the friar was absent from the Padres from 1985 to 1995. Regardless of ownership, the team consistently strays away from its traditions on various levels, over and over again. As a fan, this is incredibly frustrating. Oh yeah, by the way, I have the Swinging Friar tattooed on my inner bicep. My brother got it for me as a birthday present years ago and I still love it. Click HERE for the photo.

(Image Source: Baseball In San Diego – From The Padres To Petco by Bill Swank)

Padres Quotes #1.

One of the more popular segments I do over at 90 Feet of Perfection, is my “Baseball Quotes” posts. I figured, why not do the same thing here on The 5.5 Hole but related to the Padres and San Diego baseball. Enjoy!

Matt Kemp Padres Brown“Anything Tony Gwynn Sr. wore, I wanna wear.”Matt Kemp on the Padres brown uniforms

TIm Flannery Padres
“Not a chance, you go to hell for wearing that uniform!”Tim Flannery, when asked if he’d ever take a job with the Dodgers

Dick Williams Padres
“My first thought was, ‘Some of these guys have better control than my starting pitchers.’ My second thought was, ‘We’re dead.”Dick Williams on rock throwing Tiger fans after the 1984 World Series

Mark Grant Padres
“Just when you think you got this game licked, the baseball gods will creep up on you and bring you to your knees.”Mark Grant

Jack McKeon Padres
“If you don’t pick Tony Gwynn, all of you are fired.”Jack McKeon, on drafting Gwynn

The Curious Case of a PCL Padres Cap.

1941 Padres Cap (Ebbets)

While reading up on old Pacific Coast League uniforms a few years ago, I came across the above image in a web store called Rakuten. The sold out item was described as a “San Diego (PCL) Padres Authentic 1940 Game Cap by Ebbets Field Flannel.” If there’s one thing I know well, it’s the PCL Padres and their uniform history, however, this cap was a complete mystery to me. If it didn’t have “1940” in the title, I would’ve disregarded it and assumed it was just a custom Ebbets Field Flannels cap. The fact that 1940 was referenced had to mean something, right? As time passed, my curiosity got the best of me, so I decided to contact both Jerry Cohen & Joe Swide at Ebbets to ask about the cap. 

Jerry responded and initially informed me that “This was an old cap we did once for a special event.” However, he emailed me shortly after and said he was mistaken and that “It was a regular cap we did.” He also mentioned that “We used the one with the SD because it’s more interesting than a blank cap. That’s all there is to it.” This all makes sense, but my curiosity was still sparked because if this was indeed a legit cap the PCL Padres wore, why had I never seen it in all my photos and books that I’ve collected over the years?

Shortly after my emails with Jerry, Joe responded as well and verified that they made the cap. He also informed me that no one wore the cap in the 1940 team photo:

1940 San Diego PCL PadresHowever, he gave me a heads up that a player with the last name of Skelley is wearing the cap in the 1941 team photo. Look for him in the middle row, three over from the left:

1941 San Diego PCL PadresI was no stranger to this team photo but somehow had overlooked this gem. When I proceeded to look up the 1941 team, I couldn’t find anyone with the last name of Skelley, which added to my overall confusion and curiosity. After some sleuthing, I found two players with that last name who played for the PCL Padres. The first being William Skelley, who played 10 games for the Padres back in 1937 and later played for the Hollywood Stars in 1940. I also found  Mel Skelley, a local San Diego kid who played American Legion ball with Ted Williams prior to professional baseball. This particular Skelley played for San Diego in 1942, was in the military from 1943 to 1945, and then came back in 1946. He fits the age, frame of time and his photo on the 1942 team photo looks a lot like the same guy in the above 1941 team photo.

It’s not that odd that Mel Skelley was featured in the 1941 team photo but never played. It’s possible that he may have joined the team late in the season and didn’t get into any games; but still managed to get into the team photo. That, or the photo was taken in Spring Training and he didn’t make the team out of camp. Either way, Skelley actually spent the 1941 season playing with the Tacoma Tigers of the Western International Team & Salt Lake Bees of the Pioneer League. It’s possible they were affiliated with the Padres as the old PCL teams did have affiliated teams under them at times. Ultimately I didn’t care too much about all this, I just wanted an explanation as to why Skelley is wearing this mysterious cap and no one else is.

After my emails with the Ebbets guys, I was flipping through Bill Swank’s Echoes from Lane Field–A History of the San Diego Padres 1936-1957 (If you don’t own this, get it!) and found this collage of the 1940 team:

1940 San Diego Padres CircleIf you look at Pat Tobin (left side, around the “8:30” position), he’s wearing the same “SD” cap! I did a little research on Tobin and the only similarity between him and Skelley that I found is that they both played in the Pioneer League in the year that each photo was taken; however Tobin played for the Idaho Falls Russets. I doubt there’s a connection, but it’s just worth mentioning. Still, I was left without any backstory on the cap and eventually gave up on trying to figure it out. I just hoped that sooner or later I’d be able to add the Ebbets cap to my personal collection, but wasn’t holding my breath as they were no longer made.

1940 PCL San Diego Padres Cap 2

Well, after monitoring eBay for a few years to no avail, I recently got the cap. Or should I say a version of it, as mine has a red line that goes down the middle and the one I initially found online did not. I actually like my version more, which is also navy blue, but this photo makes it seem a bit darker than it actually is. Finally owning the cap is what sparked me writing this post, however, I still I have no backstory on it.

Maybe it was a throwaway cap that ended up not being used, yet was given to players when nothing else was available? Maybe they were made for a special day? Maybe they were worn by players in the same capacity that college football players wear stars on helmets? Anyone’s guess is as good as mine and regardless of why it existed, it’s gotta be quite insignificant, or it would have been documented better. Something I’m aware of (and Jerry from Ebbets stressed to me), is that it was common for uniforms from this era in the minor leagues to not always entirely conform. A relevant example would be the 1936 team photo, which features 3 players wearing Hollywood Stars uniforms. Still, there’s a documented backstory on that. There’s no backstory to explain why the “SD” cap was made and if anyone else besides Skelley and Tobin wore them? I’d have a hard time believing that only two players ever wore these caps.

As of today, this curious case of the PCL Padres cap remains open. When (and if) I ever find more info, I’ll be sure to share here as I can’t be the only person who loves stuff like this. To be continued…I hope.

UPDATE:
After posting this last week, I decided to contact my friend and San Diego Baseball Historian, Bill Swank. It’s something I should have done ages ago, as he knows more about the PCL Padres than anyone. With that said, Bill was able to shed some light in regards to the caps:

Hi Duane,

The PCL Padres went through several uniform changes in the late 1930s and into the 1940s. Mel Skelley is wearing a 1939 Padres uniform in the 1941 team photo. You’ll notice that several players are wearing the same jersey. They were young men under contract to the Padres who played winter ball in San Diego as the Junior Padres. Mel is also wearing the cap of the Junior Padres.

There are several references to “Junior Padres” in “Echoes from Lane Field.” The most memorable is from Earle Brucker, Jr. on page 123.

“I’ve got quite a memory of Lane Field. I was standing on second base for the Padre Juniors when they turned on the PA system and said the War had just started. It took away a double, so it was a bad war.”

Mel Skelley 1941 Padres Team Photo (Detail of Mel Skelley cap from 1941 Padres team photo)

Looks like Bill set the record straight on the caps! I’ve read about the Junior team before, but only in reference, so it never crossed my mind. Also, I’ve never noticed that Skelley and four other players are wearing 1939 jerseys in the 1941 team photo, so that’s a cool little gem to be aware of as well. Thanks again for the information, Bill!