In the 2021 MLB season there were 14 batters who struck out at least 96 times by the onset of the All Star Break. What is the significance of this obscure fact? 96 strikeouts represents the total number of punchouts endured by journeyman infielder Sam Dente over the course of his career of 8 years. He came to the plate nearly 3,000 times and managed to be sent back on strikes less often the famed eagle-eyed batter Tony Gwynn.
Unlike Gwynn, the low strikeout percentage did not translate into hitting success. Dente batted only .252 over his the course of his career. He made contact often, but a .261 average on balls put in play shows below-average ability to turn contact into hits.
Despite his batting stats and equally disappointing defensive metrics, Dente hustled. He played with a broken finger in 1954 and ended up playing with the Indians in the World Series. To address mounting family medical bills he worked as a clothing salesman in the off-season. He lost much of his hearing while manning anti-aircraft artillery in World War II and tried to get it back in the ensuing decade. An operation to address the issue left him with unable to play and prompted his retirement in 1956.
While Dente officially stepped away from the game in 1956, he left one more mark on the sport: His grandson is big league pitcher Rick Porcello.
Dente only appeared on one Topps baseball card during his playing days and I picked this one up on eBay. It looks VG-EX at first glance, however, someone has colored in parts of the photo with an ink pen. The school year would have resumed right around the time Topps got around to distributing this fifth series card. I like to imagine some 1950s-era child doodling on it.