Thursday, November 25, 2010

A New Sheriff In Town

I'd like to talk about one more card this morning that, in the midst of all the 1976 Topps Johnny Bench love and even the '71 Topps Munson love going around, hasn't been getting half the attention and respect that I feel it's due. It's a bit more modern and it's easier to get than the cards of the other two catchers I just named, which may be why people don't do cartwheels over it, but I really think they should start.

Yep, it's the 1993 Upper Deck Ivan Rodriguez card.

Folks, this card is downright scary. Pudge was almost definitely no more than 21 years old in this picture, possibly only 20 when it was taken, and yet, he already had a killer's eyes and more swagger (and the skills to back it up) in one posed baseball card than damn near an entire league full of pretenders. Just look at him. He's Bill Hicks' impression of Jack Palance made flesh.

(This video is not safe for places where Bill Hicks can't be heard out loud.)

Back to Pudge. He's daring you to even think about taking a lead off first base. He'll actually hear you thinking about it and gun you down so fast that it'll rip a hole in the space-time continuum, erasing you from history. Yes, you heard me correctly. You know how people, in their aggressive, threatening moments, say things like "I'll make you wish you'd never been born?" Pudge in his youth didn't trifle with that "wishing" nonsense. If you were foolish enough to try and steal a base on his watch, he'd simply make it so you were actually never born.

"Pick up the gun."

At the time that Rodriguez came to the majors, Bench had been gone for almost a decade, and Munson was taken from us way too soon, months before Pudge had even turned 8. The great Ted Simmons had retired a few years prior to Pudge's debut, Bob Boone retired the season before, and Carter and Fisk were just barely hanging in there. The old gunslingers of Josh Wilker's daydreams were all gone or getting there, and Ivan Rodriguez was truly the new sheriff in town, simultaneously the first of a new breed and the last of a dying one. No other card of his does a better job of conveying that, and I'm not entirely sure that Upper Deck produced a better single card of anyone before or since.

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