Card Corner: George Scottby Bruce Markusen
May 28, 2010
Admittedly, this is one of the more awkward looking cards in the otherwise striking set put out by Topps in 1980. Perhaps “clunky” would be a more fitting word than awkward. The airbrushing of New York Yankees colors and logos onto a picture of George Scott wearing a Boston Red Sox uniform is not exactly fine art at its best, but Topps can be forgiven for such slapdash work in an era that predated the wonders of “photo shop” on personal computers.
If you’re anything less than a diehard Yankees fan, you probably don’t even remember George “Boomer” Scott playing for the franchise. This is the only baseball card that shows him wearing Yankees pinstripes and colors, airbrushed or otherwise. Scott’s journey that landed him in New York happened only because his skills eroded during the late 1970s. Slowed by injuries and a lack of conditioning, the 34-year-old Scott began to decline in 1978. His play fell off the Green Monster precipice in 1979, prompting the Red Sox to trade him to the Kansas City Royals. Desperate for a power hitter, the Royals gave him a quick look, but concluded that Scott had lost his home run stroke and gave him his release.
Normally, a trade and a release during the same summer for an aging veteran spells the end of a career. Not so with Scott. The Yankees, at the tail end of an awful season, decided to audition Scott with the idea that he might be able to contribute in a platoon role in 1980. I distinctly remember Scott’s 1979 appearance in Yankees pinstripes as one of the few positive memories of an otherwise dismally tragic season; The Boomer batted .318 and slugged an even .500 in 44 late-season at-bats. Scott played so well that final month that both Topps and I thought the Yankees would bring him back for 1980. Yet, he became a victim of an offseason of rebuilding, which included signing another right-handed hitting first baseman-DH, Bob “The Bull” Watson.
Deciding that a Bull was more valuable than a Boomer, the Yankees let Scott become a free agent, making his Topps card null and void. The other 27 major league teams took a pass. Scott opted to continue his career in the Mexican League, hoping that another big league team might give him a call in the middle of the 1980 season. The call never came.
In retrospect, I wish the Yankees had brought Scott back for a longer look. I would have enjoyed seeing him finish his career with the ‘80 Yankees, a team managed brilliantly by the late, great Dick Howser. In his prime, Scott was a very good player, one of the elite right-handed power hitters of the 1970s. He was also a fun player, a slick, athletic first baseman whose agility belied his rounded build. Equally charming off the field, the giant-sized Scott entertained reporters with amusing answers to routine questions and an unusual brand of vocabulary. He was also a stylish dresser, both on and off the field.
An interesting wardrobe preference became a trademark of Scott’s pre-game activity. During his second stint with the Red Sox, Scott used to wear a rubberized suit in a futile attempt to lose some of the excess weight that always seemed to accumulate around his midsection. As former Sox manager Don Zimmer has noted, Scott sweated off a few pounds during each early evening workout, but he seemed to gain all the weight back by the time the first pitch was thrown.
Scott’s intriguing fashion choices continued during the game. Unlike most fielders, he wore a helmet while playing first base. Scott began wearing the helmet during his early Red Sox days, in reaction to some unruly fans on the road who had decided to hurl objects his way. Like his contemporary Dick Allen, and like John Olerud in future years, Scott put safety first when it came to playing first base.
But I’ll most remember Scott for this habit: He wore a distinctive necklace that appeared to be made of stones or ivory. When a reporter asked Scott to identify the material used to make the necklace he wore on the playing field, the first baseman responded dryly: “Second basemen’s teeth.” Actually, the necklace was made up of shells, wooded beads and possibly ivory tusks of some sort, but the reality never came close to matching the color of Scott’s sinister humor.
Scott also had an interesting way of inventing nicknames and catch phrases. He called his first baseman’s mitt, which was extremely dark in color, “Black Beauty.” He liked to call home runs “taters,” coining a phrase that Reggie Jackson and others would use in later years. Ron White would have been proud.
Given his colorful use of language, it’s no surprise that Boomer became a favorite of media members looking for a good quote. Forever smiling (as he is on his final Topps card), Scott also enjoyed talking to fans, developing a reputation for signing as many autographs as possible at American League ballparks.
At times, Scott’s outgoing personality overshadowed his ample abilities as a hitter. A key member of the 1967 “Impossible Dream” team, Scott remained a mostly productive player with the Red Sox through 1971 before being traded to the Milwaukee Brewers in a nine-player blockbuster deal that also involved notables like Tommy Harper and Jim Lonborg. As a member of the Brewers, Scott twice reached the 100-RBI mark and shared an American League home run crown in 1975 before returning to the Red Sox in 1976. He played productively for the Sox in ‘76 and ‘77 before his game began to fall off during the Red Sox’ summer swoon of ‘78.
After his playing days, Scott became a manager, first in the Mexican League and then most notably with an independent league team called the Massachusetts Mad Dogs. Filled with free spirits and wild personalities, the team reflected Scott’s loose and freewheeling managerial style. In 1996, the Mad Dogs won the North Atlantic League championship under Scott’s scattershot direction.
Scott is retired from managing today and battling some health problems caused by his continuing weight gain, which at one point put him well over the 400-pound mark. Last I heard, Boomer was trying to lose some of the weight and get himself in better condition to take a stab at managing again. I have no idea how good a minor league manager he would be, but I have to believe that baseball would be better off having a guy like George Scott back in the game.
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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