The 1969 Topps baseball cards are my favorite. I heard someone once say that a lot of people’s favorite year card is the ones when they first started collecting. Maybe that is the truth because the 1969 series was my first year of card collecting.
Mickey Stanley played his entire career with the home state team. He was born and went to high school in Grand Rapids and played 15 years with the Detroit Tigers. He was a superb outfielder- the winner of four Gold Glove Awards. What first comes to mind when I hear the name Mickey Stanley is something you don’t see happen often. The 1968 season was the final season in baseball where there were ten teams in each league and that was it- no divisions, no playoffs- the winner of each ten team league would go directly to the World Series. The Detroit Tigers had only won two World Series in their history- in 1935 and in 1945.
The 1968 baseball season was the year of the pitcher and the Tigers Denny McLain won 31 games that season as the Tigers went 103-59 winning the American League by 12 games. This was a team with a weakness though. Their left side of the infield couldn’t hit a lick. Third baseman Don Wert finished the season with a .200 batting average. Even worse was the situation at shortstop- Ray Oyler who spent the most time at shortstop that season finished the year with 1 home run 12 RBI’s and a battling average of .135. That isn’t a misprint- Ray Oyler hit .135 that year.
Late in the season Detroit manager Mayo Smith did something that I think few managers would attempt today. The Tigers outfield that season Willie Horton in left, the gold glover Mickey Stanley in center and Jim Northrup in right. Their future Hall of Famer Al Kaline had missed two months with a broken arm. This was the days before the DH.Kaline was healthy for the World Series-what to do? To get Kaline back in the line-up and to get some hitting out of that shortstop position Mayo Smith in the final days of the season did something I find incredible. He took his gold glove center fielder Mickey Stanley and moved him to shortstop. Stanley started six of the last nine regular season games at shortstop. Until late August of 1968 Stanley had never played shortstop in the major leagues. Stanley would replace the anemic hitting Oyler in the line-up for the World Series. In the World Series against the Cardinals Stanley did make two errors but neither error led to any Cardinal runs, he hit only .214 in the series but did hit a triple and score two runs in Game 5 when the Tigers had to win being down 3 games to 1 in the series.. His moving to short paid off also because the outfield of Horton- Northrup and Kaline all came through big in the series with the Tigers beating the Cardinals in 7 games.
Ray Oyler was taken by the Seattle Pilots in the 1969 expansion draft and Stanley played some shortstop in 1969 but the Tigers came to their senses and saw that wasn’t going to work out full time- plus you had a Gold Glover here- put him back in the outfield. Never a great hitter- will always be remembered for what he did in the 1968 World Series- and for his outstanding defense in the outfield for the Tigers. He finished his career in 1978 with a .248 average, 117 home runs and 500 runs batted in. He is still living in his native Michigan and his now seventy-five years of age.
ESPN at the end of the 20th century ranked Mayo Smith’s moving Stanley to shortstop during the World Series at #4 greatest coaching decision of the 20th century.