#CardCorner: 1979 Topps Mike Lum
Can a baseball card capture the perfect swing? Probably not, since a card’s photograph is static and doesn’t show us the motion of the bat and the movement of the hands and the body.
But a card might be able to capture the perfect follow-through to a swing. And if that’s the case, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a more picturesque follow-through on a baseball card than the one belonging to Mike Lum on his 1979 Topps card.
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Everything is just the way it should be on Lum’s card. His right leg is striding forward, while his left leg is planted, with just the right amount of spacing between the two limbs. Lum looks perfectly balanced here. With regard to his upper body, his bicep muscles are properly flexed, while his bat is in a good finishing position. And just to complete the picture, Lum’s facial expression is that of a grimace, a reflection of the hard work that goes into hitting a baseball.
As good as the follow-though looks, I have no idea where the ball ended up. Lum’s head is tilted slightly upward, indicating that perhaps he has hit a fly ball. Based on a review of his 1978 season, when the photograph was taken, I don’t think that he has hit a home run here. In ‘78, Lum hit three home runs on the road – one at Shea Stadium and two in Atlanta’s Fulton County Stadium – but neither of those road ballparks is pictured here.
Perhaps the ball ended up as a deep fly, caught by the right fielder or center fielder. Or maybe it ended up as a long double. Whatever the end result, it shouldn’t detract from that wonderful follow-through.
Lum’s 1979 Topps card is one of four that shows him wearing the colors of the Cincinnati Reds. He is best remembered, however, for playing with the Atlanta Braves, the franchise that originally drafted him out of Roosevelt High School in Hawaii. That was in 1963, when the Braves were still located in Milwaukee. By the time that Lum made the major leagues in 1967, the Braves had moved to Atlanta.
Lum (pronounced LUHM and not LOOM) came from a non-traditional baseball background. Born in Honolulu to an American soldier and a Japanese woman, Lum did not come to know his parents because the unmarried couple put him up for adoption. A Chinese couple succeeded in adopting and raising him, leading to many stories that claimed Lum came from Chinese heritage. In reality, he was the first American of Japanese heritage to play in the major leagues – and only the fourth Hawaiian to make it to the big leagues.
The Braves gave him a looksee in center field; he didn’t hit much, but he was in the major leagues to stay.
In 1968, Lum received plenty of playing time as a fourth outfielder behind the veteran trio of Tito Francona, Felipe Alou and Hank Aaron. Lum showed versatility by handling all three outfield slots with finesse, but at the plate he struggled, batting only .224 with three home runs.
Lum filled the No. 4 outfield role again in 1969 and showed some improvement, as he lifted his batting average to .268. At one point, manager Luman Harris called Lum the best reserve outfielder in either league.
“I can’t think of a better extra outfielder on any club,” Harris told Wayne Minshew, corresponding for the Sporting News. “Also, he is as good a man on a team as I’ve seen. He has a great temperament for the game and plenty of desire.”
With veteran first baseman Orlando Cepeda limited to 73 games by sore knees, the Braves moved an aging Aaron to first base, creating space for Lum to play regularly in right field. The 25-year-old responded well to the challenge, playing a solid right field and hitting a respectable .269 with a .340 on-base percentage and 13 home runs.
The Braves hoped that Lum could build on that season in 1972, but the players’ strike wiped out the start of the season. During the strike, Lum received a jolt when he heard a local TV report that he and Dusty Baker had been traded to the Oakland A’s in a deal for Jim “Catfish” Hunter. The report came from a prankster (identifying himself as a member of the Braves’ front office), who placed a call to the local newsroom. Lum learned of the “trade” from Braves pitcher Ron Schueler. Shook up by the news, Lum frantically called up Braves traveling secretary Don Davidson and asked him if the story was true. After hesitating at first, Davidson assured him that no trade had been made.
Though he started the season in right field, Lum slumped so badly in 1972 that the Braves reduced his playing time against left-handed pitching. By season’s end, Lum’s batting average had sunk to .228. He finished with only nine home runs and a slugging percentage of just .350.
Another off season in 1975 convinced the Braves to move on from Lum. At the December Winter Meetings, the Braves worked out a one-for-one swap with the Reds, trading Lum for utility infielder Darrel Chaney.
The trade to the powerhouse Reds eliminated any chance of Lum again becoming an everyday player. The Reds already featured a terrific starting outfield of George Foster, Cesar Geronimo and Ken Griffey, Sr., with young Ed Armbrister and veteran Bob Bailey providing backup. Lum joined Armbrister and Bailey as reserves who pinch-hit and gave rest to the regulars as needed.
After the 1978 season, the Reds traded Lum back to Atlanta, allowing him to move into the “Braves Phase 2” part of his career. Lum played well in 1979 before slumping the following two seasons. In the middle of the strike-interrupted 1981 season, the Braves released Lum, who handled the move with grace. He soon found work with the Chicago Cubs, where he finished out his big league tenure as a backup first baseman and corner outfielder. Lum closed out his career with 103 pinch-hits, putting him sixth on the all-time list at the time.
Lum wasn’t done with baseball just yet. In a move that made particular sense given his Asian heritage, Lum found work in the Japanese Leagues. He signed a contract with the Yokohama Taiyo Whales, where he performed respectably in 1982. Lum enjoyed playing in Japan, but was disappointed when the Taiyo Whales chose not to invite him back for a second season.
Although Lum’s playing days had come to an end, his association with baseball would continue. Hank Aaron, who was heading up the Braves’ farm system, placed a call to Lum and offered him a job as a Spring Training instructor. Lum then put in some time for the Braves’ affiliate in the South Atlantic League before moving on to the Chicago White Sox system.
Bruce Markusen is the manager of digital and outreach learning at the National Baseball Hall of Fame