Friday 23 September 2016

Looking back: Zellers Expos Baseball Pro Tips - Gary Carter

When I was a kid a new mall opened up in my neighborhood, the Herongate Mall in Ottawa. (Searching online, it opened in 1981.) There were all sorts of great stores, including a pet store to look at, and a cookie place that introduced me to double chocolate cookies. One of the anchors of the mall was a Zellers department store.

The following summer, Zellers paired with the Montreal Expos and put out a 60 card set of Baseball Pro Tips. Cards were distributed in 20 panels of three cards.

I remember making my way to the mall to get the cards, especially the Gary Carter ones! I don't remember how they were given away, but imagine it wasn't with purchase because I don't think that I would have had as many as I did. If you had asked me a month ago, I would have figured that of course I had collected the whole set at the time, separating the panels into their individual cards, and putting elastics around them with the rest of my cards at the time.

I recently picked up a full set of cards still attached in panels. Looking at them, I'm now sure that I didn't have them all. I didn't remember there being 20 panels/60 cards. I'm still sure I had all the Carters, but a lot of the others seem new to me.

I hope to eventually show all of the cards, but this post will look at those of my hero, Gary Carter.

Gary Carter had five of the twenty panels, broken down as follows:

Cards 1A - 1C - Catching Position
Cards 6A - 6C - Fielding Pop Fouls
Cards 13A - 13C - Fielding Low Balls
Cards 16A - 16C - Catching Stance
Cards 19A - 19C - Hitting Stride

Remember to read the tips from right to left to match the card photo above
I was a catcher in Little League. I wore number 8 whenever I could get it. And I tried to follow the advice on these cards. Signs, though, they didn't come into play until I was older.

I was so happy when I became old enough to actually have a separate mask and helmet, as opposed to the mask that was fixed on the helmet that covered my whole head. I just felt so much more like a real catcher when I was able to just pull the mask off and throw it aside.

I remember going to practices and having the coach pull me aside to practice blocking errant balls. He had a bucket of tennis balls that he would toss in the dirt right in front of me. Good times!

I credit catching with making me not afraid of the ball. Later in life, in a men's baseball league, I often led my team in being hit by pitches because I wouldn't really make a serious effort getting out of the way. I would twist my body enough to make it look to the umpire that I was trying to avoid the ball but had no problem letting myself get hit in the arm or the thigh. I once remember an opposing catcher trying to call me out to the ump as not having tried to move out of the way but the ump still gave me first base. BTW, the other catcher was right!

Over the years my stance changed dramatically as I tried emulating what I saw other catchers do on tv. I can't say that I ever mastered Tony Pena's style of sitting on one leg with the other extended outwards, I really wasn't that flexible. Do a Google search for it - I can't see how that would be comfortable.

Now, I only played around with other stances when there wasn't anybody on base. If there was a runner on base I would be prepared to shift my body to throw to whatever base I might need to.

As for the hand placement, as a kid my throwing hand would be solidly behind my back. As I got older, and when I played in the men's league, my hand would mostly hang behind my right leg/shin. That got me in trouble once when instinct took over and made me grab for a foul tip that jammed my thumb nail into my thumb. That hurt.

Hey, how did a hitting card sneak in here?

I was a good hitter, with good hand-eye coordination that was mostly a contact hitter when I was young that developed power when I got bigger.

As with most Canadians, I think my baseball swing was influenced by my hockey playing. I shot left in hockey, and batted left in baseball. Like a lot of left-handed batters I liked the low ball.

And writing all of this has made me realize just how much I miss playing baseball.

The tips on these cards seem so basic now but I know that I loved reading them when I was a kid.

And of course, seeing these tips remind me of another avenue of instruction that I had as a kid with another catcher, Johnny Bench. Does anyone else remember "The Baseball Bunch"? What other avenues of baseball instructional tips do people remember?


  1. You can't talk about baseball tips without talking about the Fred McGriff commercials for Tom Emanski from the early 1990s:

    I have the Gary Carter hitting stride card autographed. It's odd because I have no recollection of buying the card anywhere -- though I probably got it at a card show in Milwaukee in the 1980s -- but it showed up in my collection autographed. I never have found any others.

  2. Those are really neat. When I played baseball I played a few games at catcher. Always took an inning to get used to the glove lol..

    BTW, I got the package in the mail today.. Thank you!