Monday, February 28, 2011

#348 Ted Lepcio

Ordinary card of an ordinary player, right? Not so fast. Check out the cartoon on the back of Ted Lepcio's card! "Ted is a squash fan." What the heck does that mean? Does he play squash or is he a 'fan', meaning he follows the sport like I follow football and hockey? I have to assume it means he played it.

Ted was a utility player for the Red Sox and spent the last couple of seasons of his career bouncing around with three other teams. He was dealt to the Tigers in May of 1959, just about the time this card was released.

Three facts I learned about Ted:
1) He attended Seton Hall University which is a school that's close to my old homestead and one I considered way back when. That was before I'd decided that I'd had enough parochial education.
2) He hit 15 homers in 1956, nine of those in an eighteen game stretch. And...
3) He was Jimmy Piersall's roommate with the Red Sox in 1962 when Piersall was having his ummm.... issues. I bet Ted had a few stories to tell!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

#20 Duke Snider

Edwin Donald "Duke" Snider died today at the age of 84.

The Duke of Flatbush played 18 seasons in the Majors. All but his last two seasons were with the Dodgers, eleven of those in Brooklyn. He, of course, is the 'Duke' part of "Mickey, Willie and the Duke" fame. Those three being centerfielders for the three New York franchises during the 1950s.

There will be a lot written about Duke Snider in the next few days so I won't attempt a real bio here but I do have one fact that will likely surprise, or even amaze, your friends. Who would you guess is the leading home run hitter during the decade of the 1950s? Willie Mays? Hank Aaron? Mickey Mantle? Nope, its The Duke.

This card was one of the first 'star' cards I acquired when I began this project. It's in better shape than the scan shows. Nice seafoam green framed shot of Snider in that iconic Dodger uniform taken in what I believe is the LA Coliseum. It even somehow conveys his reputation as one of the nicer guys in the game.

RIP Duke Snider

Saturday, February 26, 2011

#213 Jim Rivera

I really like this card. Red frames may be my favorite. Combine that with the White Sox cap and uni, and, most particularly, the really cool 'Flying Sox" logo in the bottom left and you have a great card.

Side note... that #35 in the background would be Bob Shaw if we assume this is a shot taken in 1958. Shaw looks to be chatting with his Bronx homeboys. Since Shaw came over from the Tigers in late June this could be from the Sox' trips to NY in July or August.  < /Dick Tracy mode  >

When I saw that Jim Rivera was included in the '59 set something pinged in the back of my mind. Googling him brought up a rather amazing post at Baseball Fever that gives more background on Rivera than I could (or would want to) cover here. It's pretty interesting and I recommend reading it.

The cartoon on the back of this card mentions his nickname of 'Jungle Jim". According to this post at Baseball by the letters he got it from Chicago sportswriters due to his 'all out' style on the bases and in the outfield. I'll leave any other connotations up to you.

Rivera did have a combination of speed and power finishing first or second in the A.L. in steals from 1952 through 1958. In each of his six second place seasons except 1954 he finished behind a teammate, either Luis Aparicio or Minnie Minoso. At the end of his career Jungle Jim was the oldest player in the league. Probably had 'lived' more than anyone else as well.

Friday, February 25, 2011

#217 Carl Erskine

I bet these pink frames were not very popular with kids at the time these cards were out but I think it looks good with the Dodger cap and card logo. And isn't that the Coliseum in the background? Sure looks like it.

Carl Erskine appears happy to be in Los Angeles but in my mind he's a Brooklyn Dodger. 1959 was his swan song with the Dodgers, appearing in just a handful of games. His retirement ended a nice career that saw him claim double digit wins in seven straight seasons. As his cartoon mentions he tossed a couple of no-hitters. He was a fan favorite in Brooklyn earning the nickname "Oisk" as derived from the Brooklynese calls of his name from the bleacher denizens in Ebbets Field.

At age 84 Carl still out there accepting awards and making appearances. He has his own website (actually his agency has it for him) and exploring it will gain you more tidbits and cool facts about the guy than I could hope to include here. Check it out.

I've mentioned living in Brooklyn but I was just a toddler, and we were not there long. My father was the one with the real ties to that borough having lived there for most of his life before going off the D.C. to attend college. My dad was a Yankee fan. He lived literally down the street from Ebbetts Field and never went there to see the Dodgers play. I asked him a few times why that was and he seemed surprised that I'd asked. He said he was a Yankee fan and "why would I go see the Dodgers play?" I never understood that but it made perfect sense to him. He never went, that is, until he scored seats for Game 5 of the 1949 World Series between the Yanks and Dodgers. He got to see the Yanks close out the Dodgers and he saw Carl Erskine pitch. I bet he appreciated the former a lot more than the later.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

#212 Fence Busters

Among the 1959 set Topps scattered 'special' multi-player cards. With some exceptions these featured 2 or 3 teammates in posed shots with a write-up on the back. This (obviously ungraded) special is among my favorites largely because I admired both of these players and I really admired the classic Braves uniforms of that era.

Not much to say about either of these two Hall-of-Famers. Both were always class acts. I saw Hank Aaron hit a few homers, the most significant was #712 in the Astrodome. What I remember most about it is that I was at the game with a friend who was a big Braves/Aaron fan. He had fit when we overheard fans behind us disparaging Aaron home run totals because of the dimensions of Fulton County Stadium.

I saw Eddie Mathews play as a Brave at Shea Stadium in the 60s but nothing stands out. I did see him once as an Astro in 1967. My family had just moved to Houston and my father and I attended a game versus the Pirates. I was amazed at how green the turf looked and I spent a lot of time staring at the roof. He was dealt to the Tigers not long after that in a trade that brought Fred Gladding to Houston.

I hadn't realized until I found the game on Baseball Reference that Eddie Mathews was the Braves manager.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

#248 Boston Red Sox team

Take a look at the front of this Red Sox team card. Look closely at the top row, guy at the right end of that row. Yup, Ted Williams. Whats special about that is that he had signed a contract with Fleer for 1959 and they put out a complete set of Ted Williams cards. So this is all you'll see of The Splendid Splinter in the '59 set (unless he shows up in the background of another card someplace).

Here is what appears to be the original print from which this Topps card was produced. I've highlighted Ted's head, pun intended.

This is the first of the 16 team cards to be posted from the 1959 set. The 1959 Boston Red Sox finished fifth in the A.L. going 75-79 under three different managers. They were at or above the A.L. average in most hitting categories except batting average and at or below average in most pitching categories. Williams had a lousy year, hitting in the .250s with just 10 homers. his lowest complete season total. but he wasn't completely washed up. He bounced back for one more good season in 1960 and retired to concentrate on fishing, hunting and later managing the Washington Senators.

As with most of the team/checklist cards in my '59 set, the front looks somewhat better than the back. I don't remember actually marking the checklists but apparently a lot of collectors did because it seems like most of the ones I come across are marked. This gem even has a huge ass check on the back. Maybe the kid put that mark there when he completed the series. In this case it's the 3rd series.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

#31 Ken Lehman

A nice thing about blogging this set is I'm learning a lot. I was only dimly aware that Ken Lehman had spent two seasons with my Orioles. I looked back and sure enough he's in the '58 set as a Bird. And his hair is so good he could compete with the numerous nice hair guys shown in the '65 Topps Project blog . Looks happy, doesn't he? He should be, wearing that Orioles uniform and posed with that iconic Yankee Stadium upper deck and facade framing his smile and pompadour.

Pictured here on a Phillies card he ended up spending a couple years in their farm system before making it back to the bigs in 1961.

Oh, yeah...... I also discovered that he was pitching in Brooklyn while I was living there as a little squirt just a long fungo from Ebbetts Field. I bet he rode a cab past our rowhouse a few times. I wonder if he ever saw me out front on the steps?

Monday, February 21, 2011

#413 Camilo Pascual

This card looks to be another Yankee Stadium shot with the righthander in a classic follow through pose in a red frame. Pretty nice copy of this one as well. Of course, it's somewhat off center. I hardly even notice after awhile.

Not to pick on Topps but, c'mon.... you spelled Cuban-born  Camilo Pascual's name wrong on both sides of his card, in two different ways! It's as if they said "OK, we stuck your face on Lumenti's card so we'll balance things out by screwing up your card." Pascual, to this point, had been a hard working, fairly average pitcher on lousy Nats clubs for about four or five seasons. He turned his game around in 1959 and won 17, more than twice as many as in any previous season. He made the first of his five A.L. All Star teams as well.

I saw him pitch live a couple of times as a Twin, the most memorable by far coming on a Sunday in 1963. It was another Yankee Stadium doubleheader. Pascual started the first game and in the bottom of the second inning a group of demonstrators jumped out on the field from near the Twins dugout and ran to the mound, wrapping him in a Cuban flag. I remember the incident and being aware of the whole Cuba/Castro vibe playing out at that time but it sure was a surprise. This was way before Morganna made running out onto the field chic. For years I searched for some documentation of the day. Finally, a few years ago, I found this page that discusses it as part of the larger issue of Cuban exiles in American baseball.  Then the other day I Googled the incident again and found gold! This was the picture I knew had to be out there somewhere but I'd never found. Corbis has the photo and even the original caption. I friggin' love the internet! Here's the shot:

Sunday, February 20, 2011

#316 Ralph Lumenti (variation)

Poor old Ralph Lumenti can't catch a break. First of all, that's not even Ralph pictured on the card. Topps stuck about-to-be Nats ace Camilo Pascual on this one. In 1959 the two pitchers were going in different directions. The old bonus rule had Lumenti on the Nats' roster for '57 and '58 but he saw little work. He made a couple of brief appearances in late 1959 and was sent back to the Washington farm system where he kicked around for a few more seasons before entering the witness protection program*. Heck, he isn't even represented on his own cartoon! The guy sitting in the student chair is supposedly getting conked on the noggin with a blast we can only assume has been served up by Ralph. Either that or it's a wild throw he's uncorked. I wonder if Ralph got facial ticks from all this.

The Lumenti card was issued with and without the "Optioned to Chattanooga in March 1959" line below the cartoon. The 'with' version is more common. My example is pretty much beaten up, with very soft corners, stained, creased and scuffed. And, adding insult to injury, my Lumenti was 'autographed' by one of the card's former owners, Mike Howard. Did he do that with every card in his collection? Mike, you out there? I'm feeling like I need to upgrade this one, just to honor Ralph Lumenti. Just to see what he looked like here is his 1958 Topps card.

Meanwhile Camilo Pascual did a career 180 in '59 but I have a cool story that I'm saving concerning him. We'll see all that in a day or so.

*=I'm kidding. According to Wikipedia Ralph is still alive and I'm assuming has recovered from his slights at the hands of Topps.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

#461 Baseball Thrills.... Mantle Hits 42nd...

First look at the Baseball Thrills subset of ten cards numbered 461 thru 470. These commemorate 'on the field' achievements by stars of the day, not all of them coming from the previous 1958 season as I would have expected. The Willie Mays BT features his over the shoulder catch in the '54 World Series. And a couple, Banks Wins MVP for example, honor a general award or skill. We'll look at each at some point.

The backs of these describe the action or achievement and the box in the upper right of the reverse describes them as 'Action Photos'. They appear to be colorized versions of an actual photo. The Mantle above is concerned with the 1958 regular season homer chase and his close win over Rocky Colavito. But the photo of the Mick coiled to unload shows the bunting in the background that signifies a World Series shot.

This subset commands a premium above the regular cards of the same series but they are neither very expensive nor difficult to find, especially in ungraded, unslabbed form.

UPDATE: Corbis provides us with the original photo and indeed it is from the 1958 World Series.

#374 Art Ditmar

True confession time... I've always had a 'thing' for Art Ditmar. No, no... not in the same way I've always had a 'thing' for Jennifer Beals..... but a 'thing' nonetheless. I've got several of his cards. It began when I was a kid and the joke among my many Yankee fan friends was "Oh oh, you're screwed, here comes Art F'ing Ditmar!!"  Yes, most of my friends had precious little comedy talent. but that's another post. It was one of those inside jokes and we all became fans of the guy, even those of us who didn't root for the Yanks.

Here we see my man Art posed in Yankee Stadium with two of the upper deck posts framing his head. Those posts were the bane of my father's existence. We'd be there nearly every Sunday that the Yanks were at home and we'd have to be there early enough so that we could get general admission upper deck seats without a post hindering our view.

The card itself features a classic Topps pitchers pose, a cool orange frame and a gem of a cartoon that points out that Ditmar lost the most games among American League pitchers in 1956. Damn nice of them I'd say.

Art won 28 games for the Yanks over the 1959/1960 seasons before his career went abruptly south and New York graciously returned him to their 'minor league' affiliate in Kansas City, the A's.

And I can't let this post go by without a picture of Jennifer Beals. Still amazing looking at 47ish. My wife knows that I'd leave her for only one woman... 

Hey, you take your ego trips, I'll take mine.

#448 Vada Pinson

This card pretty much personifies the f/g aspect of my collection. The auction listed it as 'Poor', and I guess it is but eBAY descriptions can be a funny thing. I've bought plenty of late 50's cards that were listed as better grades than this that were in worse shape. This experience has been an education in card 'grading'. I don't want any purists to stroke out so I'll save my stories about cracking open slabbed cards to put in my binder.

The back of Vada Pinson's card mentions his fine spring performance leading to winning a starting job in 1959. I don't follow contemporary card sets but do any current issues get released late enough to include stuff like that? I doubt it.

1959 was Vada Pinson's breakout season. He hit .316 with 20 homers and 47 doubles. He went on to have a pretty distinguished career with the Reds and four other clubs ending with the Royals in 1975.

Pinson was a key player in what was probably the most fun day I've ever experienced in a major league park. Yankee Stadium, a Wednesday doubleheader, Indians in town and my best friend and I have finagled our way into choice seats behind the plate just to the third base side.

Game One featured some fool tossing a cherry bomb out of the upper deck which landed (and exploded) right next to Indians' catcher Ray Fosse. He set some sort of vertical leap record. Scared the crap out of everyone around as well. In the 9th Bobby Murcer slugged the first of what was to be his four consecutive homers on the day. But the absolute topper can be seen in this video:

In the 5th inning of the second game, Pinson hits a one out single and then moves to second on a ground out. The Yankee pitcher, Stan Bahnsen, uncorks a wild pitch and Pinson tries to score from second. Thurman Munson tracks down the ball, tosses it to Bahnsen who tags Pinson out...... right between the eyes. Pinson gets up swinging, benches clear and we have the typical baseball fight/dance. Pinson was the only one really looking to land any blows and he got ejected. Murcer smacked the last three homers on his big 4 homer day.

Since I moved to Houston in early August of that year I believe this was my last visit to the old Yankee Stadium before it was refurbished. Quite a day.

edited to add.... I found this excerpt from Thurman Munson's biography that chronicles some of that day. I swear Pinson was trying to score from second though, not third as the book claims.

Friday, February 18, 2011

#313 Frank House

Happy Birthday, Frank House. Frank was born on this date in 1930. He passed away at the age of 75 in 2005. He was a part-timer/platoon catcher through the 1950's, beginning and ending his major league career with the Tigers. He squeezed in stints with the A's and Reds as well. He was property of the Orioles during the 1961 season but never got a call-up from Rochester and then was dealt to the Tigers in July of that year.

He's pictured here in his Athletics uni but I think there is a good chance that he posed as a Tiger and was airbrushed enhanced, but maybe I'm just paranoid. I AM sure he is posing at Yankee Stadium. And I bet Topps wasn't lying when they state in House's blurb that he was 'a powerhouse behind the plate'. He looks pretty solid.

This blog will have it's share of cards in nice condition but more than not will appear to have lived a full life as has this example. After all, I am building my set one fair to good card at a time.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

#530 Wally Moon

Wally Moon seemed to be avoiding me. I lost two or three auctions for his card and twice (twice!!) purchased it only to have the seller refund my money because it wasn't in stock after all. Finally nabbed this pretty nice specimen a week or two ago. It features nice corners, clean, bright front and back, yet another airbrushed cap logo and Wally's easily recognizable uni brow. It's a high number to boot.

The back of this one was full of stuff that I never knew... the fact that Wally was an Aggie ...err, excuse me...IS an Aggie. I'm told there is no such thing as a former Ag. Got himself a Masters degree no less. I also didn't know he played for the Houston Buffs, the cards top minor affiliate at the time.

The writeup mentions that the Dodgers were hoping that a change of scenery would 'act as a tonic' to his batting average. Seemed to work as Moon jumped back to a .302 average, his best since his Rookie of the Year season of 1954. The deal that sent Moon to the Dodgers brought Gino Cimoli to the Cardinals. Cimoli only lasted a year in St. Louis while Moon finished 4th in NL MVP voting for 1959 and had several more good years on the west coast before he retired after earning another ring with the '65 Dodgers.

Moon homered off the previously featured Dick Donovan in the sixth and final game of the '59 World Series. I didn't plan that. Those two cards just happened to be close at hand.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

#137 Dick Ricketts (Rookie Star)

Here we have our first 'special' card out of the '59 set. I'm not overwhelmed by the Sporting News Rookie Stars cards but I don't find them hideous either. I think Topps improved on them in 1960 (the orange background cards) and 1961 (newsprint style cards). original post for this card was wrong. I had this card on the top of my stack, assumed it was 'Dave' Ricketts (he's the Ricketts brother I was familiar with) and wrote away, oblivious to the fact it was 'Dick' Ricketts' card I had just uploaded. What a stupid I am. Mike Clark caught my embarrassing gaffe and was kind enough to provide the Dick Ricketts background in the comments section without pointing out that I was/am such a dumbass. I'm reposting this using the info Mike provided. So I guess that makes him my first guest blogger! Take it away Mike Clark......................

Dave was Dick's brother, I believe - both played for the Cardinals - one was a pitcher (Dick) the other caught (Dave). Dave had the longer MLB career. Wikipedia says:Richard James Ricketts, Jr. (December 4, 1933–March 6, 1988) was an American professional basketball player.
A 6'7" forward from Duquesne University, Ricketts was selected by the St. Louis Hawks with the first pick of the 1955 NBA Draft. He played three seasons in the NBA with the Hawks and the Rochester and Cincinnati Royals and scored 1,974 career points. Ricketts, a strong 225-pounder, was drafted #1 overall by the NBA Hawks because he was also property of the Major-League baseball Cardinals. Pitching largely for the Rochester Red Wings, Ricketts became part of that NBA franchise there as well. When the team relocated to Cincinnati, the forward/center played the 1957-58 season there. Ricketts was affected by the tragic injury of teammate Maurice Stokes in March, 1958 and retired from pro basketball following that season.
Ricketts was also signed as an amateur free agent pitcher by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1955. In 1959 he appeared in 12 games for the Cardinals, including 9 starts. He had a 1-6 record, with a 5.82 ERA in 55 2/3 innings. His brother Dave Ricketts played six years in the major leagues.

The part about Dick being affected by the injury to Maurice Stokes is real interesting, isn't it? I remember seeing Stokes appear as a guest at some NBA games in the early 60s and his story being featured on the ABC broadcasts of NBA games during that time. Here is his page at Wikipedia.

Again, thanks to Mike Clark for his input and I hope anyone reading this with an interest in 59s won't be put off by my rookie blogger mistake.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

#5 Dick Donovan

Dick Donovan had a nice career. He's was three time All Star and posted double digit wins seven times. In 1957 he was second to Warren Spahn in the Cy Young Award voting. In the '59 World Series he lost Game Three on a 3-1 decision to the Dodgers despite allowing only a pair of hits and a like number of walks in 6+ innings. But Dick came back a couple of days later to save Game Five. In that appearance he came in to a tough spot, protecting a 1-0 lead and the bases full of Dodgers in the 8th. He got the final two outs in that frame and had a 1-2-3 ninth.

And in this shot he's wearing one of my favorite non-Oriole caps, the classic S-O-X 'stairstep' logo with the red outline. I looked for one of those for a long time before finding one from a custom cap supplier last summer. In fact I love the whole look of the Sox road uni of the era. Striped stirrups, shoulder numbers, plain block lettering. Good stuff.

Monday, February 14, 2011

#431 Whammy Douglas

Charles William "Whammy" Douglas. Still alive and kicking at age 75 and still probably having to explain to his great-grand kids why he was called 'Whammy'. Story is that he was having an exceptional outing as a minor leaguer and a sportswriter stuck the name on him. Interesting that he was blind in one eye as a result of a childhood accident. Whammy never pitched for the Reds. He had a brief whirl with the Pirates in '57 and ended up as a throw-in in the deal that brought Frank Thomas to the Bucs.

Two things jump at you from the back of this card. The cartoon celebrates Whammy's spring training homer and the fact that he won 27 games in the minors in 1954. A serious win total in any league. Quite a bit more about Whammy Douglas in this terrific article.

This is a great baseball card. The black frame sets off the picture nicely. Whammy has an obviously air-brushed uniform. Topps kept the airbrush industry afloat in those days. This copy replaced a ragged one I had purchased previously. Very clean with nice corners.

#514 Bob Gibson

This is by far the worst conditioned card in my 1959 set. But it's also the one that means the most and the reason I'm filling up a binder with this great group of cards. This Bob Gibson is the only '59 Topps that has survived from my childhood. Besides that, even given the condition it's in ("Poor" would be a generous grade) I love this one. Gibby looks happy to be posing for his rookie card and he's smiling out at us from an outrageously inappropriate pink setting. This is a 'high number' card, note the red and black on white reverse. One day I'll upgrade this card but I'm not in any hurry. This old warhorse of a card will anchor my set for the time being.

I don't remember how the tape got on the back but it doesn't detract from the card in my eyes. Neither do the creases or rounded corners. It had hidden in a copy of the first Beckett Price Guide as a bookmark and sat forgotten in a storage box in my closet. Sorting through the box a couple of summers ago brought Gibby's card back into my hands and the answer to the question I'd been asking myself for some time ("Which vintage set do I want to collect") was answered.

I was fortunate enough to see Gibson pitch and believe me, he was a real badass on the mound. My favorite memory comes, ironically, from 1975, his last season and the final time I saw him perform. I attended this game in mid-August with a friend of mine who happens to be a lifelong Cardinal fan. As Gibby's career came to an end he struggled through a year that saw him saddled with a 3-10 record and an ERA over five. But on this day Gibson came into the game after the Cards had taken a one run lead in the top of the eleventh. I distinctly recall watching from seats behind the Cardinal dugout as he stalked out to the mound with that look that few pitchers had. My friend and I both saw it and said to one another 'Game over." And it was. Gibby blew away three Astros (looking!!) to wrap up the game. Awesome.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

#439 Brooks Robinson

Welcome to the first of what I intend to be 572 posts in this blog. I'll be taking what I hope is a fun and informative look at the 1959 Topps set. The '59 set (along with its bookends, the '58 and '60 sets) is a huge favorite of mine. It's the first set I recall owning cards of. I remember friends that had 1958 cards but I don't think I had any. I clearly recall receiving packs of the 1959s at Easter of that year. (A couple of packs of cards in my Easter basket was a tradition in my house.) One '59 card from my youthful collection survived and I'll feature it in my next post. PSA's 1959 set page is entitled "Bring On The Pizazz". The set was a departure for Topps and it features some elements I always like on cards, bright colors and team logos.

I'll discuss more of this great set and my reasons for this collection in future posts but first things first... the Brooks Robinson card. Brooks leads off the blog for the simple reason that he's my favorite player. This is one of the nicer cards with good corners and bright colors. The card is off center but that's very common, at least among the 1959s that I've come across. Another very common aspect of this card is the fact that Topps photographed Brooks at Yankee Stadium. It's a 'feature' that will show up countless times in this set as well as many of the 50s and 60s Topps sets. I'm OK with that as it reminds me of the many visits I made to that historic ballpark in those days alongside my Dad, a big Yankee fan.

I love the O's road uniform that Brooks shows off in this shot. The 'Bird head' sleeve patch is a great uni addition. I wish the O's would bring it back.

This card is printed on 'white' stock as you can see on the scan of the back side of the card. The red and green on 'white' is one of three combos in the set. Many of the cards are also seen on gray cardboard and the last series, a.k.a 'high numbers' are red and black on 'white' cardboard. The cartoon on the back is pretty hum-drum. But we'll see some really good ones as the blog unfolds.

As I mentioned Brooks is my favorite baseball player. My twin sons are named for him and Jim Palmer. We've met Brooks several times and he's as nice as his reputation. When a small story appeared in the Baltimore Sun about my sons carrying the names of Oriole stars Brooks came up with my address and sent us signed pictures.