50 years ago Angels batboy Leonard Garcia appeared on a Topps baseball card, the card of a major leaguer
Errors are a big part of baseball, and they don’t just occur on the field.
This year marks the Golden Anniversary of a gum card goof involving a hometown boy.
Aurelio Rodriguez’s 1969 Topps baseball card actually shows the image of Angels batboy Leonard Garcia. It’s one of the hobby’s beloved error cards, and arguably made Garcia the game’s most famous batboy (with the possible exception of Darren Baker, who was saved from being run over at home plate by J.T. Snow in the 2002 World Series).
Garcia was a military brat raised in Panama, Texas and California. His family eventually settled in Anaheim – just three miles from the new stadium still under construction.
One day, the Anaheim High student heard that the California Angels were holding interviews for the team’s batboy positions. Garcia, and 200 other hopefuls, showed up at the Anaheim Stadium construction site to be interviewed in a utility trailer near what is today the main entrance.
Garcia beat the odds, and was selected as one of the Angels’ batboys for the whopping salary of $5 per game. He served as batboy in 1966, and as the team’s assistant “clubby” in 1967-68.
In 1967, Garcia was 18. Because he could speak Spanish, he was befriended by some of the Angels’ Latino players, including Jose Cardenal, Ruben Amaro and Aurelio Rodriguez, the Angels’ third baseman, a 19-year-old September call-up.
Garcia would occasionally travel with the team. And, when the Angels closed out the 1967 season in Detroit with two double-headers in two days, he was there. The games had playoff implications as the Red Sox, Twins, and Tigers were all vying for the pennant.
Usually, Garcia didn’t wear a number on the back of his uniform, but that day in Detroit he was given a uniform with a number on it. “34 or 37,” he said, “I don’t really remember.”
Garcia was down the right field line at Tiger Stadium playing catch with Rodriguez when they were both approached by legendary baseball photographer George Brace. He took photos of both young men and wrote their names down in a notepad.
“I could see that he got our names mixed up, but when I told him, all he did was draw a little half-circle reversal arrows by our names,” Garcia remembered.
In the winter of 1967-68, the newly-formed Major League Baseball Players Association wanted Topps to deal with it instead of on a player-by-player basis, as it had in the past. The association promptly forbid its members from posing for Topps photographers during the entire 1968 season.
Because of that, Topps had to purchase photos from outside providers. The misnamed “Aurelio Rodriguez” image, now well over a year old, was purchased by Topps and became card #653 of its 1969 set.
Garcia said he didn’t realize that his picture was on Rodriguez’s baseball card until later in the 1969 season when he was signing “clubhouse” signatures on player’s cards sent to the stadium by fans.
“When we saw it, we were laughing up a storm,” Garcia remembers. “From then on, Ruben Amaro always referred to me as Aurelio.”
Tommie Ferguson, the Angels’ traveling secretary, told Garcia: “Maybe you can get some money out of Topps for it.”
Ferguson notified Topps of the error, and received a letter from Vice President Sy Berger, who also sent the photo negative. Garcia still has both in his possession and read from Berger’s letter: “Thanks for informing us of our monumental boo boo.”
Garcia and Rodriguez, forever connected in cardboard, made a Gentleman’s Agreement that either one of them could autograph the card, but that neither would sign it if the other man had previously signed it, Garcia said.
“As far as I know, I’ve got the only card that was autographed by both of us. It was a gift for my mother,” Garcia said.
His mother has since passed on, and Garcia said he has the one-of-a-kind baseball card “somewhere” in his possessions. His plan is to find the card and pass it down to his son.
In the 1970s, Garcia was offered a position in the Angels minor league system as a team trainer. Over the decade, he had stops at Quad Cities, El Paso, Salt Lake City and Edmonton, before eventually working his way back to the big league club.
Garcia served as the American League’s equipment manager when Anaheim again hosted the All-Star Game in 1989. He was even introduced in the pre-game ceremony along with all the other American League All-Stars, which he says was the highlight of his career.
Rodriguez went on to a 17-year major league career, playing in more than 2,000 games. He had a .417 batting average in the 1981 World Series, won a Gold Glove and was ultimately elected into the Mexican Baseball Hall of Fame.
In 2005, Rodriguez was hit by a car while walking on a sidewalk in Detroit. In a strange coincidence, there have been three Aurelios to play in the big leagues (Rodriguez, Lopez and Monteagudo), and all three have been killed in car accidents between the ages of 44 and 53.
After retiring from the Angels, Garcia ran a baseball school in Mesa, Arizona, for 20 years and has served as equipment manager for Team Mexico (2006) and Team Cuba (2009, 2013 and 2017) in the World Baseball Classic.
He said he still gets a few cards in the mail each month requesting his autograph, which he happily signs.
David Jerome is an author and resident of Fullerton who regularly write the Mr. Bucketlist column for The Orange County Register’s community papers. Follow more of his adventures at mrbucketlist.com.