December 22, 2010
The Man Who Wasn't There
Bob Lillis, 1986 Topps
Here is the ever-popular managerial baseball card. What kid doesn’t want one of these? I feel like somewhere in Brooklyn a sarcastic hipster has taken it upon himself to organize baseball-card-trading parties featuring only managerial cards, and everybody has to wear the full uniform of his favorite team, and everyone must spit tobacco and/or smoke, and drink whiskey, and say old-timey manager things like, “Get Johnson outta there, fer cryin’ out loud!” I would like to attend one of these parties.
What makes this particular card more special than most is the fact that Bob Lillis was not the manager of the Astros in 1986. He was fired before the end of the 1985 season and replaced with Hal Lanier, who actually went on to win Manager of the Year in '86. It appears then that Topps lazily produced its 1986 set in the summer of ’85—“How much is gonna change, really?” they figured—which preceded its future campaign of lazily asking players to pose during spring training of the actual season in question. Topps: working hard for your child’s hard-earned money!
You would think the company would have rectified this error for 1987, but featured on its ’87 “Astros Leaders” card was bench coach Yogi Berra. This continued Topps’ bizarre campaign of refusing to acknowledge that Hal Lanier managed/led the Houston Astros during this time period. Lanier, it should be mentioned, once cut Timmy Topps—the enthusiastic son of company CEO Thompson Topps—from Houston’s Single A-affiliate, the Jacinto City Jacintos. So, there was that.
Anyway, with regards to this particular card, it could be noted that Lillis is well aware of his impending fate, as he stares into the stands and contemplates what the future holds. “Possibly they will make me DEAN OF THE ASTROS instead,” he thinks, hoping against hope. Oh, what is “DEAN OF THE ASTROS” you ask?
I don’t know either. But it sounds awesome. If somebody has card # 186, please send it my way. But only if it features somebody who is not Bob Lanier wearing glasses and sitting at a desk in a formal office, trying to decide which applicants to admit to the Houston Astros and drafting an eviction notice for Kevin Bass, who has been partying way too hard off campus.