Because sometimes it takes a little nostalgia to get through an off-season, even in its waning moments, today I ask you to gather around as we celebrate an iconic baseball card.
The 1978 Topps Mickey Klutts rookie card.
The card featured an eventual 13 All-Star appearances, 60 big league seasons, one toothpick-toting sparkplug, and a Hall of Fame induction (for one of my two favorite non-Rangers players), and it also featured Gene Ellis Klutts, nicknamed “Mickey” by his family or his friends or maybe a coach. I’m not sure.
At age nine I knew enough about Paul Molitor (the third pick in the nation the summer before, poised to be a big leaguer to open his first full pro season) and Alan Trammell (who’d reached Detroit at the end of 1977, at age 19) to fist-pump (if fist-pumps were a thing in 1978) when I peeled the wax off the pack, disposed of the “gum,” and found card #707.
But I’m also sure that Bobby and I or Paul and I or Robert and I happily repeated the name “Mickey Klutts” a few times, because his name was Mickey Klutts. Should have been a “Sandlot” character, or the annoying class clown in an Encyclopedia Brown story.
Mickey Klutts would go on to rack up 579 big league plate appearances, which is about three weeks of work short of a typical Adrian Beltre season. It took Klutts more than eight years to get there.
He hit 14 home runs lifetime, once hitting two in one game.
They both came off Mariners utility infielder Manny Castillo, in a blowout win that Klutts entered late as both managers emptied the bench.
The career .241 hitter managed to reach base 28.9 percent of the time and stole one career base while getting caught seven times and tripled once in those eight years and graced this 1981 Donruss issue:
And here’s the thing.
He was probably a beast growing up in Montebello and Pico Rivera, California, a little east of L.A.
He was probably the kid everyone knew was going to make it big.
For me, it was Chris Hill and Jerry Owen and Vincent Perez and Howard Prager and Lee Jones and Juan Corea and Kirk Piskor (rest in peace) and Rodney Jenks.
(For Michael Young and Mike Lamb, it was Bryan Guerrero.)
There was awe and there was fear and there was that little bit of pride that you got to share a Little League or BBI or high school field with them, and on occasion even a uniform.
Where would those next few stops on the way to big league All-Star Games take those guys?
Betcha Mickey Klutts, taken by the Yankees out of El Rancho High School in the fourth round in 1972 (three rounds before fellow high school shortstop Willie Randolph was chosen by the Pirates), was that guy growing up.
His was a career marked more by disabled list stints and bouncing around between positions and teams and, for me, an epically great baseball card and equally unforgettable baseball name.
But he was a big league ballplayer, something that a bunch of the “can’t-miss” kids I played with or against growing up didn’t get the chance to say, and that some of those beasts your kids share a select or high school or college field with right now may not pull off themselves, believe it or not.
Some will. Mickey Klutts did.
To a kid collecting baseball cards and watching games with dreams in his eyes, Klutts wasn’t extraordinary. He was extra ordinary.
But he made it.
I thought about this the last couple days because there are people around here who think of C.J. Wilson as a disappointment.
Who think of Blake Beavan as a “miss.”
Who may not even remember Mark Hamburger if it weren’t for the 80-grade, Mickey Klutts-level name.
In 2011, Wilson was the ace of a Rangers team that was inches away from a World Series title.
Hamburger pitched for that team, too.
Beavan debuted in the big leagues that season himself, but it was for Seattle, just short of a year after he’d gone to the Mariners with three other young Rangers players in a landmark trade for Cliff Lee.
They all made news this week.
Well, sort of.
Someone tweeted this week that Wilson, who has been involved for years in the auto racing industry at some level, recently bought a Porsche/Audi/BMW dealership in Fresno, after which the 36-year-old acknowledged that he’s retiring from baseball.
His five-year deal with the Angels, guaranteeing $77.5 million of what was nearly a nine-figure career, expired at the end of 2016 and, with it, it turns out, so did his career. Wilson had Tommy John surgery two years after he was taken by Texas in the fifth round in 2001, and had elbow and shoulder surgeries in 2015 and 2016. In between, he won 94 big league games, 16 of them for that 2011 team that very nearly gave us a parade, saved another 52, made two All-Star teams, earned Cy Young votes, and landed a huge contract back home, where he was probably “the kid” 20 years earlier, before injuries ended things.
Wilson made it.
Hamburger and Beavan, ages 30 and 28, are trying to stave retirement off. They are getting looks this month by Texas, and likely others, in search of another opportunity.
Since those five late-season appearances with Texas in 2011, Hamburger has pitched for minor league clubs in the Rangers and Padres and Astros and Twins systems, put in a couple stints with the independent St. Paul Saints, and pitched winters in Venezuela and Mexico and Australia, the last of which has seen him go 5–1, 1.90 in 10 starts and a relief appearance this winter, holding opponents to a .216 average while punching out 86 (and walking only 14) in 75.2 innings.
Beavan, whose big league career got off to a very good start with Seattle (he logged quality starts his first six times to the mound), posted a 4.61 ERA over four Mariners seasons, made four starts for Arizona’s AAA club in 2015 before getting shut down with shoulder issues, and spent part of 2016 with the independent Bridgeport Bluefish (where he was teammates with Endy Chavez, and I apologize for that particular 2011 reference).
Beavan was a 2007 first-round draft pick.
Hamburger was completely undrafted, signing a free agent deal to pitch in the rookie leagues with his hometown Twins that same summer.
They made it.
Like Wilson, who retires with a playoff win and nearly 100 others, a greater legacy than any national ad campaign.
And like Mickey Klutts, who stole a base in the big leagues.
While I’ve written the last few weeks about Jeff Malm and Vinny DiFazio and Milton Bradley, the next time I sit down to write we will be in spring training.
Malm will be there and Tyson Ross will be there and Mike Napoli will be there and Rougned Odor and Jonathan Lucroy and Matt Bush will be there, and maybe Beavan or Hamburger will, too.
There will be more than 200 players with “Texas” across the chest, each of them the 8- or 12- or 17-year-old kid who everyone back home just knew was on his way to Cooperstown, with a handful of legendary stops along the way. Back in Santo Domingo and San Diego and Punto Fijo and Las Vegas and Wymore, Nebraska, in Tallahassee and Havana and Cerro Gordo, North Carolina.
Each the Mickey Klutts of his hometown.
And I mean that in the best possible way, with a salute, a tip of the cap, and all the best wishes for a whole lot of baseball cards going forward, bearing their faces and their names, with or without a ’70s perm and a jersey you could replicate with your Lite Brite.