Friday, March 14, 2014

And That's A Wrap

Writing this blog has been a wonderful learning experience. The 1959 Topps set held many more stories than I even imagined when I started it back in February of 2011. It began with a posting of my Brooks Robinson card.

I've been looking back at those early posts recently and have noticed how things evolved over time. I seemed to have moved away from posting about the card's appearance and a brief peek at the player and more towards lengthier player bios. Not sure if that was a change for the better or not!

Overall though, I'm happy with what I've produced here. There were times I thought I wouldn't finish and indeed there was a period in early 2012 when I stepped away from posting. When I came back having decided that posting a card every day was unrealistic things became much easier.

A few closing thoughts:

I'm not completely done here. As time goes by I am going back and cleaning up a few things. Not that it matters much to anyone except me but when I began I was using the default 'medium' Blogger image size. Along the way I switched to 'large' and I'm in the process of changing them all to the bigger size. While I do that I am also adding 'tags' which I neglected to do for a long time back when I was just beginning.

I am also double checking to make sure I haven't missed a card along the way. I tried to keep my checklist current as I went but there is always the possibility I skipped a card. If so I will add the entry ASAP.

I also have a few projects in the back of my head but just never had the time or proper motivation to tackle. If you've read more than two or three of my posts here you know I have an (unhealthy?) obsession with the stadiums seen in the photos used in this set. Most of the stadiums can be ID'd pretty easily. But I didn't keep a running tab on them. I may just satisfy my curiosity on a rainy Sunday and then post my results. I can take a pretty confident guess that 60% of the shots were from Yankee Stadium.

And I want to do a "Best of" post. Some cards/entries are special to me for one reason or another. It might be the player on the card, the card itself, how I acquired it, or the story I dug up when looking for material to include. I plan to put that list of favorites together and tack it on here.

Finally a few words about the great people I've come to know through this blog. I haven't 'met' any of you in person but I feel I've made friends though the comments, corrections, additions, criticisms and general kibitzing all of you have thrown my way here for three years. I am continuing my blog over at The Five Tool Collector and now I can be a bit more active on the 1963 Topps blog hosted by Jim from Downingtown. I will continue to read memorabilia blogs every day and I hope to continue to communicate with my friends.

It's been a blast and I'll see ya on the 'net.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

#478 Roberto Clemente

This is the last card to be posted from my 1959 Topps set. And this Roberto Clemente is one of my favorites. It doesn't show him an any sort of action pose which might reflect his skills but maybe more fittingly it's a portrait that has him with a half-smile focused off-camera. It's in 'fair' condition at best but given what they go for I think I'll pass up a chance to upgrade it. Hard to say where the shot was taken. Many Pirate cards have pictures from Seals Stadium in San Francisco but I get a vague 'L.A. Memorial Coliseum vibe' with this one.

You may have noticed that the card shows Roberto Clemente's first name as 'Bob'. I've always referred to as 'Roberto' so I'll go against my 'use what the card uses' convention and call him 'Roberto' here. I know Bob Prince called him 'Bobby' but... Bob Prince, well.... the less said the better. I understand that early in his career he was frequently referred to as 'Bob' but I have read that he didn't like it.

Just about anything I can say about the career and life of Roberto Clemente has been said in many places already by far, far better writers than me. Here are just a few highlights and a few memories of him.

From Clemente's Baseball Reference Bullpen page:

Notable Achievements

  • 12-time NL All-Star (1960-1967 & 1969-1972)
  • NL MVP (1966)
  • 1971 World Series MVP
  • 12-time NL Gold Glove Winner (1961-1972)
  • 4-time NL Batting Average Leader (1961, 1964, 1965 & 1967)
  • 2-time NL Hits Leader (1964 & 1967)
  • NL Triples Leader (1969)
  • 20-Home Run Seasons: 3 (1961, 1966 & 1967)
  • 100 RBI Seasons: 2 (1966 & 1967)
  • 100 Runs Scored Seasons: 3 (1961, 1966 & 1967)
  • 200 Hits Seasons: 4 (1961, 1964, 1966 & 1967)
  • Won two World Series with the Pittsburgh Pirates (1960 & 1971)
  • Baseball Hall of Fame: Class of 1973
I'm not sure what else there is to say after reading that list. I won't try to sing Clemente's praises but rather I'll recall my three most powerful memories of him.

In the summer I moved to Houston I saw the Pirates in the Astrodome a few times. One night (and I can't find the exact game) Clemente grabbed a fly with a runner on second and threw the ball on an absolute rope to third to keep the runner from moving up. Sounds routine but to see that throw and hear the crowd buzz, well, you knew that Clemente was just special.

Next is a catch he made in 1969 at Shea Stadium. In a game that was to be the only no-hitter I've ever witnessed in person he went full speed across the right-field line as he grabbed a shot by the Met's Wayne Garrett in the 6th inning. I remember him hitting the railing along the stands after the catch.

And finally I remember how he just whipped the Orioles in the 1971 World Series. I was so happy when the O's came back to tie the Series up in Game Six in Baltimore. I figured my Birds had it won with ace Mike Cuellar starting on Sunday at home. But when Clemente homered to put the Bucs ahead I got a bad feeling that he was destined to have another World Series ring. And I was right.

Here is his Hall of Fame bio:
Roberto Clemente Walker's pride and humanitarianism won him universal admiration. Despite an unorthodox batting style, the Pirates great won four batting crowns and amassed 3,000 hits. He was equally brilliant in right field, where he displayed a precise and powerful arm. Clemente earned National League MVP honors in 1966, but achieved his greatest fame in the 1971 World Series, in which he batted .414. Tragically, Clemente's life ended at age 38 -- the victim of a plane crash while flying relief supplies to Nicaraguan earthquake victims.
Some other Clemente related links of interest:
Some Clemente pics from Corbis' Clemente page:

That's the last card, but not the last post on this blog. I'll have a wrap-up tomorrow and maybe a few things brewing down the road. As always, thanks for reading!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

#533 Darrell Johnson

Darrell Johnson caught for seven different major league teams (if you count the Browns and Orioles as different clubs) over parts of six seasons. Only twice did he get into 40 or more games or get 100 at bats. But he apparently was gathering baseball acumen as he went since he ended up managing in the minors and majors rather successfully.

Johnson signed with the St. Louis Browns in 1949 and hit well as he made his way up the ranks of the St. Louis system. He made the Browns' roster in 1952 and after a slow start and demotion to the minors he came back and was in the starting line-up for a month or so but in July he was traded to the White Sox.

For the next four seasons Johnson was passed around through several organizations without returning to the majors. He came back in 1957 as a spare part on the Yankees' AL title team and remained there in New York for their 1958 championship. He didn't play in any post season games for the Yanks. But in 1961 he found himself in Cincinnati after stints with the Phils and Cardinals (where he was a player/coach) and he got to start in two games against the Yanks in the World Series. He did well, too, going two for four.

A very brief whirl with the Orioles in 1962 as player/coach was Johnson's last taste of a big league field... as a player. He jumped right into managing in the Orioles' chain in 1963 and piloted teams to titles in two out of four seasons. He worked for the Yankees for a couple of seasons. He moved over to coach for the Red Sox, served as pitching instructor and scout, and then managed in their chain before being named to manage in Boston in 1974. He took over that job as a replacement for Eddie Kasko and a year later he had the Sox in the World Series against the Reds in a Fall Classic for the ages.

But in July of '76 with his team three games under .500 Johnson was canned and replaced by Don Zimmer. The next season he became the first manager of the Seattle Mariners. He remained in that spot with a struggling expansion franchise until 1980 when he was replaced by Maury Wills.

Johnson's last managerial job came in July of 1982 when, in a nice little twist of baseball fate, he stepped in to finish out the season when Don Zimmer was canned as manager of the Texas Rangers. He went on to coach with the Mets and then was a part of their front office.

Johnson's story is really a fascinating one. His SABR bio is a good read and it includes background on his relationships with players and press. It also includes the story of how Johnson and Browns pitcher Cliff Fannin were a losing pitcher/catcher battery for a major and minor league team in the same day.

Darrell Johnson died in 2004. Of course that's Yankee Stadium behind Johnson on this off-center but otherwise very nice card. I'm going to miss these things.

The next 

 is the last

and then we are done.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

#532 Mark Freeman

Mark Freeman graduated from Memphis' Christian Brothers High School in 1948 where he lettered in baseball and basketball, and was an All-State baseball pitcher. He was awarded a baseball/basketball scholarship to LSU.

Freeman signed a contract with the Yankees in 1951 and began his pro career but he continued his education and received his degree from LSU in 1953. Meanwhile he had begun a seven year climb towards the majors taking a nearly two season detour to serve in the U.S. Army as a First Lieutenant and Sports Officer and manager of Ft. Jackson baseball team at Ft. Jackson, South Carolina.

He returned to civilian life and baseball in 1956 and was a double digit winner for three straight seasons in Denver where the Yanks had their AAA club. While there he established team marks for season strikeouts and shutouts.

On the eve of the 1959 season he was traded to the Kansas City Athletics and made it into three April games as a reliever for them. In mid-May he was returned to the Yanks. I cannot find anything to suggest why and given the history of the Athletics and Yankees during the 1950s it was likely another on of those deals of convenience for New York. The Yanks sent him to pitch in Seattle of the PCL and he had another fine AAA season there including a no-hitter. In September the Yanks activated Freeman and he capped his tumultuous season with a start at Yankee Stadium against the Orioles. He pitched seven innings allowing only six hits and two runs while fanning four. He left with the game tied but the Yanks lost it in 11 innings.

He was back in the minors to open 1960 but the Yanks dealt him to the Cubs in May and he spent the rest of that season pitching in the National League. He made eight starts over 30 appearances and went 3-3 with his only career save.

He retired to Denver, Colorado after that season to work full time in the mutual funds business which he had dabbled in for the last several years of his baseball career. He was a very successful business man and established an endowment fund for supporting the tutoring of student athletes at LSU in 2003.
His LSU bio (he was alum of 'distinction') mentions that he was founded and served as President of the Denver Broncos Quarterback Club (their official booster club).

His card shows him in a spring training shot with a retouched cap featuring the Athletics' logo but untouched Yankee pinstripes. I came across several versions of a story that goes like this:

Once, during a game when Mark Freeman was pitching for the New York Yankees, a bee buzzed his head and he balked. Casey Stengel, the Yankee manager, told him: "Next time ... swallow it."
Volume 4 of the Baseball Hall of Shame series of books contains the same story but stated the game was played against the Tigers.

Two problems with this. First of all Freeman never pitched for the Yanks against the Tigers. His only game was that September '59 start against the Orioles. And second of all, according to Baseball reference game summaries he never committed a balk. Not in his big league career anyway.

My guess? It was a spring training game or it's a story that somehow evolved from some other incident and mutated in the retelling. With Casey Stengel stories that's very possible.

 Here he is in his Yankee gear, unblemished by the Topps artist's brush and another spring camp shot in which he warms up while Stengel watches closely.

And here he is as a businessman years later:

Freeman died in 2006.

Almost done,

cards remain.

Monday, March 10, 2014

#566 Roy Sievers The Sporting News All Star

This is the last card from any of the '59 set's subsets. And it's the last of Roy Sievers' four cards in the set. Here is his regular card and we had his Baseball Thrills card and the Directing the Power special which he shared with Nats' Manager Cookie Lavagetto and Jim Lemon.

Roy, whose nickname was 'Squirrel', made four AL All Star Squads and played in three of the games. He represented the Senators in 1956, '57 and '59. He made the club as a White Sox in 1961. He did not appear in the 1957 game and got one plate appearance in '56 and in one of the two games played in '59 and '61. He drew a walk in the 1st game in '59 and that was the only time he reached base as an All Star.

This card has Griffith Stadium as a background and is sort of rough around the edges (like me in many ways) and that's an acceptable condition to me. I hadn't noticed until I scanned it but someone wrote a "3" to the right of Roy's name on the card. That's fitting since.....

We are winding down with just

cards still to be posted.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

#537 Rodolfo Arias

If you're going to play only one season of major league baseball you might as well make it a season that ends up with a World Series, right? And so it was with lefty pitcher Rodolfo 'Rudy' Arias. A Cuban native he had pitched in his home country for several years before signing with the Chicago White Sox in 1953 as a 22 year old.

Interestingly he had been approached by Joe Cambria, the Senators' 'super scout' who had reeled in so many Cuban stars for the Nats in the 50s. But Arias, on the advice of a Cuban baseball executive, put off signing with Cambria. He had hopes of drawing interest on a baseball trip his Cuban team was about to take to the States. And he was right. Based on his play the White Sox made a much larger offer than Cambria routinely did.

Beginning with his first season in the minors in '53 Arias pitched nearly year-round as he traveled back to Cuba to play in the winter leagues there. His first minor league season was his best but he continued to climb the Sox' ladder despite less than gaudy stats until he made the club in the spring of 1959.

That year he appeared in 34 games with the White Sox, all in relief. He totaled 44 innings and posted a 4.09 ERA to go with a 2-0 record. He made his last appearance of the season late in August but was on the Sox' post-season roster when they played the Dodgers in the World Series. Arias did not get into a Series game.

He was back in the minors in 1960 and moved through several organizations, never resurfacing in the big leagues. He last pitched in Mexico in 1966 after he had 'retired' for several seasons due to an arm ailment. After retiring for good Arias worked in the Miami area in construction and security. His interesting life and career are told best on his SABR bio page.

His oldest son, also named Rudy, was a catcher in the Mariners organization and remains in baseball today serving as the Orioles bullpen catcher.

Free bonus... image of a Cuban baseball card of Rudy Arias. This is the place that sells them.

Just a few cards to go,

to be exact.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

#536 Dan Kravitz

Born to Russian immigrant parents, Danny Kravitz was signed out of Lopez, Pennsylvania by the Pirates in 1949. He hit well, especially for a catcher of that era and climbed up through the Bucs' system with a two year detour to play ball while serving Uncle Sam in the U.S. Marines.

He made the Pirates' roster as back-up receiver in 1956 and debuted in the second game of the season against the Giants in New York. He went hit-less but doubled and drove in a run the next day. He was sent back to the minors that June but again made the team in 1957 only to find himself back in the minors for most of the year.

Kravitz was with the Pirates for all of the next two seasons as a reserve and began the 1960 season with them as well but he was traded to the Athletics on the first of June and he played more in half a season in KC than he had in any previous year with Pittsburgh. But while by being traded he saw the most action of his career he also missed out on that fall's World Championship run by the Pirates.

That 1960 season was to be his last in the majors as he was traded to the Reds that winter and then moved on to the Orioles' and Yankees' systems but he never again played in a big league uniform. He retired after the 1963 season. His obituary states that he moved 32 times during his baseball career. That's a lot of box packing. Kravitz worked for GTE-Sylvania until his retirement in 1995.

Kravitz passed away in 2013. He was preceded in death by seven brothers. All eight of the Kravitz boys had served in the U.S. military. Good for them!!

There are now only five 
more cards to go before we put it to bed.