Rich Coggins

September 18, 2009

Rich Coggins 76

Yesterday on the train home I looked around at my fellow riders and wondered which of us was closest to death. Nobody looked particularly sickly, and the oldest guy was probably only in his fifties, not really that much older than me. I don’t know why the thought came into my head.

I have a pile of loose cards in my shoebox that works as my “on deck” circle. These are the cards that I have considered writing about on this site but haven’t yet gotten around to doing so. This Rich Coggins card has been in that pile longer than any other card. It’s a card that I remember from my childhood and that, upon first looking at it as an adult, after years of these cards being out of my sight, gave me the same jolt that it had given me as a kid. It’s a jarring thing to stare at Rich Coggins as he appears on his 1976 Yankees card. It always has been. Many times in the last three years I’ve picked up the card and felt that jolt, but I was never able to put that feeling into words. Why do I feel the need to bury everything with words?

I started Cardboard Gods just a little over three years ago (first post on 9.10.06, to be exact), and I often pine for the what seems to me now to be the simplicity of that start. At that time my cards had been disentangled from the rubber bands that had kept them sorted into teams when I was a kid, and so everything was loose in the box. My plan was to start every single day by blindly dipping my hand into the box and pulling out a card at random and writing about it. This method, coupled with the fact that I hadn’t spent a whole lot of time looking at my cards in years, lent an exciting freshness to my first attempts to attach my own words to the cards that had centered my childhood. It was as if I had found a way to once again look at the cards for the first time.

As the odd practice progressed, I found my thoughts stretching out, making it difficult to post something once a day (plus: I am lazy), and I also found myself wanting to come at the cards from many different angles beyond just jotting my impressions of looking at the randomly chosen card. Often I’d find myself thinking about a certain player and how he related in some strange way to a story opening up in my head, but then to find that player I had to dig through my whole box of unsorted cards. Eventually I decided to sort all my cards back into teams, again retracing the steps of my younger self, and with that the element of randomness was diminished. I still sometimes try to pick a card at random, but by now I know generally where each stack is located in the shoebox (I have them piled by division) and I know the relative thickness of each team. I can no longer fake my way past the sobering fact that almost all of my cards have already come to me.

A certain sense of aftermath has presided over things here at Cardboard Gods for the last few weeks, a feeling that it’s all been done, all been said. I suppose this is only natural. In addition to writing about my cards on a regular basis for three years, I have also spent the last several months expending all my energy and heart on focusing my baseball card prayers into a full-length book (due out April 2010) that tells the story of my life and of the life of these gods and how the two have always been intertwined. In certain ways it’s a book that I have been working on for many, many years. Little wonder that I feel a little played out right now.

A little cross-eyed. A little disheveled, with buttons undone. A little like I’m staggering through the dusk. A little closer to the end. A little like Rich Coggins. Indeed, Rich Coggins, erstwhile Bumbryesque speedster and singles-swatting Orioles outfielder, was not long for the game at the time of this disquieting photo. He played in just seven games for the Yankees in 1976 before they tossed him into a Ken Brett for Carlos May deal that landed him on the White Sox, where he batted a funereal .156. When a batter hits .156, the sun has set for good. Rich Coggins had to wander out into that darkness beyond the heaven in which he had existed for a handful of years. He joined all the rest of us. All the acolytes. All the fallen gods.

Since I started this site, some of the gods have slipped away altogether, including most notably the very first player I wrote about, Mark Fidrych (who, after Yaz–may he live forever–is the second-most-featured player on this site). But Rich Coggins is still around. And I’m still around. I don’t know how Rich Coggins is handling the aftermath, but I plan to keep on finding ways to pray my way through these cards to the cross-eyed heaven of this one brief life.


  1. What I find interesting about this card is although it’s a 1976 card, this picture must have been taken during the 1973 season. If you look in the background, you can clearly see the “old” scoreboard as it appeared before the Yankees renovated the stadium from 74-75. This must be somewhat unique in a baseball card to have a gap of three years from the time the picture was taken to the time the photo actually appeared on a card. I’d have to check but I wonder if they did this with a any of the other 76 Yankee cards.

    I grew up in the New York area during these years and I honestly have no recollection of Rich Coggins being a Yankee. Granted I was a Mets’ fan but I still knew most of the Yankee players. I only remember him as a member of the White Sox.

  2. Interesting. Not sure what the story with this photo is, but it can’t have been taken in ’73–Coggins was still an Oriole then.

  3. It’s the Shea Stadium scoreboard.

  4. mbtn01,

    You’re right. It is the old 70’s era Shea Stadium scoreboard. My bad.

    What threw me off was the Yankee logo on the top of the scoreboard. They must have put mounted it there when the Yankees played.

  5. If not for those 7 games for the Yankees in ’76, Coggins would have been one of those rare (not sure how rare; I think Bobby Bonds is one) Shea Stadium-only Yankees.

    Coggins also has some renown for being involved in an absolute fleecing of the poor Montreal Expos by the Orioles. A soon-to-fade Coggins and a soon-to-retire Dave McNally were shipped north of the border for Mike Torrez (who would win 20 games for the O’s that season) and all-time O’s great Ken Singleton.

  6. I was a Yankee fan and don’t recall Coggins being on The Yankees. I do remember him being the first batter at the first baseball game I ever attended. My uncle worked for Manufacturer’s Hanover and he was given 4 seats (first row, 3B side, just past the dugout). Coggins was the leadoff hitter for the O’s. I think it stuck in my head because when my uncle had filled out his boxscore I couldn’t tell if it said “Coggins” or “Cossins”. The game must have been in 1973. My uncle and my cousin got there before my father and I. When we got there my uncle handed me a ball that he had snagged during batting practice off the bat of Brooks Robinson.

  7. The thing that strikes me about this card is not Coggins’ stare, but the same thing that creeps me about about all the 1976 Yankee cards, namely, the lime green and baby blue on the card. Those aren’t Yankee colors! Yankees have black-and-white. It always drove me crazy. 1976 is my favorite set and they tried to match up the two colors with the team (with a corresponding team in the other league) and the Yankees just had nothing to do with lime green and baby blue. Thirty-three years later, it still bugs me.

  8. sb1902,

    Good Points, your right, what’s with the “lime” green on a Yankee card?

    This set and the ’79 set have a lot of odd/bad color choices. I guess it was part of the ’70s where odd/bad color choices were par for the coarse.

  9. I like how you reffered to Coggins as “Bumbry-esque.”
    They were both left handed batters, about the same size, and were posed similarly in their ’74 cards for the Orioles, (with similar batting averages), leading me to continually associate the two of them…

    Throw in a couple of other similar-sounding early-70’s Oriole outfielders in Don Baylor and Don Buford, add a couple of all-star “Robinson’s,” and it’s no suprise how I thought of the Baltimore teams of that era as a frightening monolithic army of hitters out to level any competition that dared get in its way…

  10. The White Sox traded Scoggins to the Philies for Wayne Nordhagen. Nordhagen had never played in the majors before the trade, but he had an OK career after that. Scoggins never played again after the trade.

  11. Coggins, I mean. Rich Scoggins was a drinking buddy of mine.

  12. Did anyone see the Krazee-Eyez Killa episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm?

  13. Add Alex Johnson, Walt Williams, Rick Bladt, and Rick Sawyer to the list of “Shea Stadium-only” Yankees.

  14. Does anyone think some of these cards were taken in a studio?
    This one almost looks like a studio with big photo backdrop of what I guess everyone is agreeing is shea stadium.

    I like the vneck undershirt with what appear to be holes in them.

    I am going with this is all staged. Come on in Rich…..we have a uniform you can put on and a hat that may fit ya. I can picture 2 guys carrying the wood framed 5 x7 backdrop in behind Rich. This will only take a second rich, nah dont button up the shirt, looks great….gotta it….NEXT….Walt Williams….good to see ya…ya look great…..say cheese….NEXT

    Fake moon landing….doubtful….Rich Coggins fake ballpark shot….I am starting the conspiracy right now.

  15. I realize I’m late to the party, but I’m glad to have found your blog today…it’s truly an awesome thing.

    I distinctly remember sitting at the table with a friend and our dads, looking through 1975-76 cards…at some point a Don Wilson showed up next to Rich Coggins and my friend’s dad mentioned that he’d died. For some reason, even though I knew better, it was almost as if Coggins had died, too. Even today, seeing this card gave me a little shudder. I can’t explain this; there’s no logic to it. It just was.

    I haven’t collected in decades and have gotten of almost all my “valuable” cards, but I kept a lot of the “common guys”, and I kept the only game-worn jersey I ever owned: 1972 Rochester Red Wings #20, Bill Kirkpatrick. Kirkpatrick was included in the Coggins deal to Montreal; I think he refused to report but I’m not sure…anyway, seeming coincidences love to pile up and show their faces, and they have done so today. Very cool.

    Thanks for the great blog. I’ll be checking out more of it, for sure.

  16. Richard and I went to the same high school in Detroit. He came from California and had a brother named Fred. I think they moved to Detroit because his father got a job at Motown (Hitsville, USA). He had a thyroid condition, so perhaps that is why his eyes look like they do in the picture. He was very handsome, very athletic and a really nice guy. Denise Beasley Johnson

  17. I always loved Rich Coggins since he played for the Rochester Red Wings before going up to Baltimore. I followed his career and have been wondering what has become of him since then. Does anyone know?

  18. I completely agree with the subtext of this analysis. Not many players from that era will discuss it publicly, but a destructive lifestyle took to MLB in the mid 70s and I think it accounted for the downfall of a number of careers. I believe it motivated several trades, as managers, trainers and GMs began to notice and transfer players out without the receiving team having any idea. An injury could also be responsible for a 4 year downfall like that of Mr. Coggins, but no one can say except the players, IMO.

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