Card Corner: 1971 Topps: Chris Shortby Bruce Markusen
February 18, 2011
As part of its history-making 1971 black-bordered set, Topps did something that it had never done before by featuring some of its regular issue player cards with action. These were not simulated situations or posed shots, but rather photographs of actual game action—and in full color.
Most of the photographs were snapped at the two New York ballparks, Shea Stadium and Yankee Stadium, both close to the Topps headquarters. A few came from ancient Connie Mack Stadium in Philadelphia, slogging through its final season of existence before giving way to Veterans Stadium.
One of my favorite cards from this set features Connie Mack Stadium as its backdrop. It showcases the relatively forgotten Chris Short, along with another player who is not quite so forgotten.
When Short (who was anything but, checking in at 6 foot 4) arrived in the major leagues, he threw about as hard as any lefthander in the game.
But he didn’t know how to mix his pitches or throw strikes with any consistency. For the most part, he struggled until late in the 1963 season, when he added an effective curveball to an arsenal of fastballs and sliders. The following year, Short became an All-Star while emerging as the Phillies’ No. 2 starter behind Jim Bunning.
Unfortunately, manager Gene Mauch overused Short and Bunning down the stretch and the Phillies imploded, allowing a six-and-a-half game lead to evaporate during the final two weeks of the season. Short did not pitch badly—he allowed a total of six earned runs in 18 innings—but was betrayed by poor defense and a shaky bullpen. Short became both a victim and a culprit in one of the greatest team collapses in major league history.
The Phillies’ dramatic tumble seemingly had little affect on Short. In 1965, he bounced back to log a career high 297 innings, posted a 2.82 ERA, and won 18 games. He pitched a bit less effectively the following season, but still completed 19 games and reached the 20-win plateau for the only time in his career. He continued to pitch well over the first half of the 1967 season, earning selection to his second National League All-Star team.
And then, just as he seemed to have steadied his career path, Short hurt his back during the second half of the ‘67 season, forcing him to undergo major surgery. Although Short returned to the diamond and fared reasonably well in 1968, he pitched in pain and struggled badly over his final four seasons before being forced into retirement.
Though he’s not well remembered today, Short was a very fine pitcher at his peak. He won 132 games for the Phillies, despite chronically poor run support. Though Curt Simmons has his share of supporters, a good argument can be made for Short being the second best left-hander in Phillies history. The one man who is clearly better? Hall of Famer Steve Carlton.
Short finished his career with a brief and ineffective stint in Milwaukee, then became a successful insurance agent, a common second career for many players of his era. He also taught young pitchers at a baseball camp in Warminster, Pa. In 1988, while still in his 40s and in the prime of his second career, he suddenly suffered an aneurysm in his brain and slipped into a coma. His friend and former teammate, retired right-hander Art Mahaffey, led an effort to raise money to help Short’s family pay mounting hospital bills. I interviewed Mahaffey in the late 1980s and remember him as a modest man trying to do a noble thing for a friend.
Sadly, the fund-raising effort could not reverse Short’s physical condition. In 1991, having never come out of the coma, Short died at the age of 53.
Short’s 1971 Topps card shows him trying to pitch through some of his chronic back pain in a game played on June 14, 1970, during the final season at Connie Mack Stadium, formerly known as Shibe Park. By 1970, the stadium had deteriorated badly, but it was one of the good old ballparks in its heyday, a structure with a distinctive outer facade that oozed baseball of the 1930s and '40s.
As Short delivers the pitch on this card, he does so against the nostalgic backdrop of the old advertising signs at Connie Mack. In case you’re wondering, the card gives us a partial view of the famed Alpo Dog Food sign, which emphasized that the product contained “100 per cent meat.” Some might be tempted to make the connection between Alpo and the base runner who can be seen leading off from second base. Cheap shots aside, most die-hard fans will recognize the runner as Pete Rose, the Reds’ All-Star right fielder in 1970—and future outlaw of the game.
Unlike Short, Rose’s eventual problems in baseball did not occur because of bad luck or misfortune. Rose willfully bet on baseball games, lied about his habit for years, and then admitted to only some level of guilt when a publisher paid him enough money to write about his troubles.
Rose’s presence on Chris Short’s card slightly raises the asking price of what is otherwise a common card in the 1971 set. In that sense, Rose enhances the value of the card.
In another sense, perhaps a more moral one, he detracts from it.
Bruce Markusen is the author of seven books on baseball, including the award-winning A Baseball Dynasty: Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s, the recipient of the Seymour Medal from the Society for American Baseball Research. He has also written The Team That Changed Baseball: Roberto Clemente and the 1971 Pittsburgh Pirates, Tales From The Mets Dugout, and The Orlando Cepeda Story.
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