Tuesday, May 31, 2011

#145 Dom Zanni

The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop. by Robert Coover is the most unique book on my shelf. And its the first of two novels that I'll post about here.

Coover's book centers around J. Henry Waugh, an accountant who in his spare time, has built a fictitious baseball league the schedule of which he plays out using a dice based baseball game he devised. That's a little like saying "Hoover Dam holds back water".... it doesn't begin to describe the real treasure that this dark story is.

Waugh's league has 59 years of history, generations of players, league politics, feuds and rivalries. All of which has been chronicled in meticulous detail by the ever more obsessed Henry Waugh. Little by little the league has consumed Waugh and taken over his life (and the narration of the book after awhile).

Coover tells a great story and though his works contain no other baseball related books he has an obvious knowledge of the game and it's nuances. This is quite a ride. I had wanted to read this one for quite awhile and finally grabbed a copy a couple of seasons ago. I played quite a bit of Strat-O-Matic baseball as a kid and I was expecting a story of a guy obsessed with dice baseball. It's obviously much more than that and had me hooked from the start.

I struggled to find a card which I could use to 'hook' into this dark novel. Dom Zanni's card belongs here, I decided, for three reasons. First of all, like Waugh's fictional players, he seems made up. I've never come across him other than this card. Second of all Waugh continuously feeds 'rookies' into the UBA as watches their development and finally "Dom Zanni" just sounds like a fictional name.

Zanni, who looks to be about thirty five on that card, was Giants prospect who ended up winning two games for them spread over 18 appearances through 1961. He was traded twice, first to the White Sox where he won six of his nine career victories in 1962 and then to the Reds where he finished his career with sporadic appearances through 1966.

Monday, May 30, 2011

#194 Jim Brosnan

With summer almost upon us I want to change gears for just a bit and do something a little different with the blog. To me summer (among other things) is baseball book reading time. I barely follow the current major leagues but I still love the game of baseball itself and enjoy the history and characters of baseball's past.

I thought I'd blog some cards that I can link (sometimes tenuously) to my favorite baseball books, one's that I think any fan would enjoy. Some are on every list of 'best baseball books' you can find. Others are less well known.

I'm going to skip delving in to career of the players whose cards are featured other than a few highlights. These posts are about the books.

First up is a book I am featuring because it was written by the most famous (and only?) author among the subjects of this set. It's a book I read over 20 years ago and admittedly can't remember much of. The Long Season was written by reliever Jim Brosnan and is a diary-style account of his 1959 season, one in which he was traded from the Cardinals to the Reds.

I didn't read The Long Season when it was published but I do recall the stir it (and Brosnan's next book Pennant Race) created. It was unlike most of the contemporary baseball writing and the 'inside look' at the game was pretty controversial. There isn't the "tell all" feel that came later with Jim Bouton's books but it certainly was more revealing that anything else being written.

Pennant Race is a similar account of Brosnan's 1961 season. He was fortunate enough to kept track of his doing in a year the Reds went on to the World Series.

Brosnan, known for his studious look and persona (see the cardback cartoon!) pitched nine seasons in the bigs, primarily for the Cubs, Cards and Reds. He moved from a starters role into the bullpen in 1959 and appeared in three games for the Reds in the 1961 World Series. He went 10-4 with 16 saves for that club.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

#552 Casey Stengel '59 All Star Selection

It's the Ol' Perfessor! Or, as the back of this All Star card says, "Sly Ol' Casey-The Pennant Winning Genius Who Dotes On Double-Talk". In other words, we usually don't know what he's talking about.

Stengel is one of the most talked about, most written about, most quoted and most photographed personalities in baseball history. He had great success as a manager with the talent rich Yankees of the 1950's.  But never won a thing with his other clubs. 

As a player Stengel toiled as an outfielder for 14 seasons in the National League starting with the 1912 Brooklyn club. He played in three World Series, one with Boston and two others with the New York Giants. He won a championship with the Giants in '22.

He's was Hall of Fame manager and world class quote machine. But my favorite pictures of Casey comes from his days with Brooklyn. Love those shades! 

In 1959 Topps didn't have dedicated managers cards as they did in later years. But several field generals show up on special cards and NL All Star manager Fred Haney has a card in the All Star subset like this one of Stengel. 

One last question... I wonder what the heck he's pointing at?

Saturday, May 28, 2011

#319 Dave Hillman

Fisrt thing that jumps out about Dave Hillman's card is the Wilson glove logo staring us in the face. Early example of product placement?

Hillman's career ran from 1955 through 1962 pitching for the Cubs, Red Sox, Reds and finishing with expansion 1962 New York Mets. Pitching for the Mets may or may not be the cause of a career change. He switched between starting and relieving roles during his three busiest seasons as a member of the Cubs. 

His best season was the one that this card represents as he made 39 appearances, 24 starts, won eight games, fanned 88 guys in 191 innings and went the distance four times in 1959. All those are career bests. He had his best WHIP that year as well, 1.157. He had a say in the National League pennant race as well when he defeated the Dodgers 12-2 on September 26, forcing Los Angeles into the pennant playoff in which they beat the Braves.

Hillman did make some history when he was part of the first inter-league trade made without the inclusion of waivers. That came after the '59 year when he was dealt to the Red Sox along with Jim Marshall for Dick Gernert.

Friday, May 27, 2011

#279 Ernie Johnson

Ernie Johnson hardly spent a moment of his life outside the Braves organization. 1959 was his final season as an active player and the only year he was employed by some other club. He debuted in 1950 with the Boston Braves after nearly a decade in their chain with a three year stint in the military. 

He was almost exclusively a reliever making 19 career starts, 10 of those in his first full year in the bigs, 1952. He was a steady if unspectacular performer for most of the decade. 

He pitched well in three appearances in the '57 World series allowing only two hits in seven innings. One of those hits however, was Hank Bauer's Game Six winning homer. In 1958 he split the season between the Braves and their AAA club and was then released. He hooked on with the Orioles for 1959 but was released after that and signed with the Indians but was cut prior to the 1960 season. 

He made one start for the O's in 1959 coming on May 29 at Yankee Stadium. That's notable because after allowing two hits and two unearned runs to the Yankees in the first he was pinch hit for in the top of the second. The Orioles went into the game a game and a half behind Cleveland in the standings but only two months in to the season it's hard to picture Paul Richards having that quick a trigger, even for a guy making his first start in several years. I've dug up some game stories but no mention is made of any reason for the quick departure of the O's starter.

Johnson  moved into the Braves broadcasting booth in 1962 and continued as their voice until he retired in 1999. He's a member of the Braves' Hall of Fame and has support for induction into the Baseball Hall as well. He had the unique pleasure of working with his son as Braves broadcasters for several seasons in the 1990's. Ernie Johnson Jr. is TBS' basketball host and broadcaster. 

This card shows Ernie in an Orioles cap but that has to be an airbrushed logo. He wouldn't have been in an available picture in anything other than a Braves cap. Topps did a pretty good job of it, though. Good enough to pass a casual inspection anyway. Airbrush or not it's a nice portrait and unusual in that the red frame on an Oriole card is a rare occurrence. 

My copy is middle of the pack condition wise. Far from mint but nice for an ungraded '59. 

Thursday, May 26, 2011

#257 Leon Wagner

The most interesting guys have the coolest nicknames don't you think? Leon "Daddy Wags" Wagner is a case in point. Wagner, a product of Tuskegee University, signed with the New York Giants in 1954 and meda his debut with the San Francisco version of that franchise in June of '58.

After a couple of seasons of limited playing time he was traded to St. Louis who in turn dealt him a year later to the independent Toronto Maple Leafs of the International League in time for the 1961 season. In April of that season he was dealt to the expansion Angels and Wagner's career took a turn for the better. 

In three seasons with the Angels and four with the Indians (a trade which reportedly prompted his comment  "Nothing against Cleveland, but I'd rather have been traded somewhere in the United States.") he had double digit homers and made a couple of All Star squads. The Indians traded him to Chicago in '68 as his numbers fell off. He was briefly property of the Reds but was sent back to the White Sox prior to the opening day of 1969 and promptly released. After signing with the Giants in May he finished out the season there and then Wagner was back in the minors for a couple of seasons before retiring.

Along the way Wagner had opened a clothing store in L.A. which used the tagline "Get your rags from Daddy Wags". Post career he dabbled in film but his life spiraled downhill due mainly to substance abuse and he died homeless in Los Angeles in 2004. There is much about Wagner on the 'Net with this story on a Cleveland based web site/blog being the most interesting I've found.

My Wagner is a little scuffed, miscut and a bit battered. Doesn't matter. I like the blue frame and how the pose shows Wagner's intensity and his 'split hands' grip.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

#172 Kansas City Athletics

1959 was this franchises fifth in Kansas City after leaving Philadelphia. In 13 years in KC they never finished higher than sixth and were below .500 every year. Of course with Charles Finley in charge after he purchased the franchise in 1960 the A's began their slow climb respectability. Too bad they finally reached that point after they moved to Oakland in 1968.

The '59 A's featured players on their way to or from New York depending on the needs of the Yanks. Five of their regulars and seven of their ten most used pitchers went directly to or from the Yanks in deals in the second half of the decade.

My copy is a pretty nice one if you can overlook the miscut. The red and yellow motif isn't bad. It doesn't clash horribly with the team colors as some have.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

#292 Dick Williams

Dick Williams broke into the majors in '51 with the Brooklyn Dodgers and kicked around the Dodger chain, making appearances most years on the big club, until he was traded to the Orioles early in the 1956 season. 

It was in Baltimore that Williams made himself over. He morphed into a weak armed outfielder (he had injured his shoulder) into the quintessential utility guy playing nearly full time and anywhere he was needed on a particular day. He served in that role through three different stints with the O's bracketing stops in Kansas City and Cleveland. He finished up in Boston for a couple of years ending in 1964. 

Along the way he earned a reputation as a hard-nosed bench jockey (i.e. jack ass) which naturally led to a job as a coach in the Bosox chain followed quickly by a shot at their AAA clubs manager in 1965. Success at that level got him a contract as Red Sox manager in 1967 and he promptly took them to the Impossible Dream pennant. 

Despite losing to St. Louis in the Series that season Williams had established himself as a manager to be reckoned with. His 'style' of managing, while producing success on the field, seemed to have caused him to wear out his welcome in several towns.

There is no denying his abilities though. He won four pennants (with three different clubs, a rare feat), led four different clubs to 90 win seasons (only Lou Pinella has also done this), and was only the second manager to lead three teams to the World Series. Paul Richards thought so much of Dick Williams as a player that he kept trading for the guy. Richards passed along some of his managing ability to his protege if not his people skills.

Williams continued to manage after his MLB career ended by spending a year at the helm of a franchise in the Senior Pro BB Association. He was elected to the Hall of Fame (as a manager) by the Veterans Committee in 2008. 

He's pictured here on a KC Athletics card. Topps used a picture taken hatless as he posed in Yankee Stadium while with the Orioles. Seems to me that the brush-cut Williams looks very different from how he'd look in his managing days. Weird to see him without his moustache. 

Monday, May 23, 2011

#462 Colavito's Great Catch Saves Game

I can always find what I'm looking for on the 'Net. Well, almost always. I wanted to find out which game this catch by Rocky Colavito occurred in and I thought it would be a pretty easy task. The back of the card tells us that Indians held a 'slim one run lead', that there had been two hits already (I assume in that inning), that the starter was still pitching, that it was 'late in the game' and that Colavito's catch saved a Cleveland win. Odd that there is no mention of the date or even year but no matter, my goggling would find the game in no time. Or so I thought.

I googled it several different ways but I drew blanks. Strange. But I did find dozens and dozens of references to an incident when Colativo went into the stands at Yankee Stadium.  And innumerable references to the trade that sent the immensely popular 'Rock' to the Tigers in exchange for Harvey Kuenn. And I found this picture, obviously the original black and white image used for the card, in a forum post that says the catch was made of off the bat of Hank Bauer. But it says nothing else.

Undaunted I went to work mucking through Baseball Reference looking at box scores. I checked all Indian games at Yankee Stadium from 1956 through early 1959. I eliminated all Indian losses or lopsided wins. I couldn't find any game that fit the card's parameters exactly. I assumed that Rocky's catch ended an inning, and that there had been two hits in the inning prior to the third out being made by Colavito. I went through all the possible games several times and found nothing.

I did find that on May 9, 1956 Colivito made the final out with a catch in the ninth inning in a 6-5 Indian win at the Stadium but there was only one runner on via a single hit and the Indian starter was long gone by that point. And it had been Gil McDougald who had hit the ball. (I am dubious as to the accuracy of the Bauer reference anyway.)

Colavito had made the final out on a fly off the bat of Elston Howard on September 11, 1957 but that Indians were ahead by two that inning and there were no runners on.

EDIT: This page at the Hall of Fame's Dressed to the Nines uniform database helps narrow the timeline to 1956/1957. The Indian's away jersey that Colavito is wearing was gone by 1958.

On June 8, 1958 the Yanks trailed by a run for most of the 'late game' action but nothing reselbling a catch by Colavito was made with even one runner on. He did make a catch in the bottom of the sixth after a double by Andy Carey but no other runner was on and the catch came with one out. There were two singles with two outs in the bottom of the 7th but Norm Sieburn popped to the catcher. That game is a remote possibility if you give Topps some 'fudge' room.

Then there is August 19 of that season. In the bottom of the 8th the Inidans are up by two runs, the starter has been lifted and the Yanks put two runners on with a walk and a single and Colavito makes a catch to end the inning. Again the catch makes it a possibility but none of the other 'facts' match up.

On May 12, 1959 (I figured there was a very small chance the catch came early in the season the card was issued) the Indians beat the Yanks by a run but Colavito made no putouts at all.

So there I am, back where I started. I know the catch happened but unless I can find the picture in a newspaper archive I'm giving up. And I have been through the boxscores/summaries twice. But it'll bug the hell outta me at night for awhile.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

#4 Albie Pearson

The Red Sox signed Albie Pearson as a pitcher in 1953. He was pressed into service as an outfielder and found a home there. And through the years he's made a 'cottage industry' out of being short. 

He was dealt to Washington broke into the majors with the Senators in 1958 after a mostly successful trip through the Bosox minor league chain. He made good on the flyer the Nats had taken by grabbing a starting spot in the outfield and earning AL Rookie of the Year honors. 

Plagued with back problems Pearson was an off and on performer and in 1959 he began in the 'off' position and was traded to the Orioles where he stayed until he was selected by the Los Angeles Angels in the 1961 expansion draft. 

Albie was the first player to cross the plate for the new franchise and went on to a nice three year run with the Halos. He led the league in runs scored in 1962 and made the AL All Star team in '63. Injuries again cut into his time and effectiveness and he eventually retired following the 1966 season. 

Since his retirement Pearson has served as an ordained minister and he and his wife established Father's Heart Ranch in Desert Hot Springs, California, a home for abused, neglected and abandoned boys. His foundation feeds Zambian youth who have lost their family to AIDS.

My Pearson card is about par for the course in this set. Decent corners, somewhat mis-cut but clean and bright. I really do like the red and green on cream cardboard reverse. It's my favorite among the various combinations you find in the '59s. 

Albie is smiling in Yankee Stadium with the upper deck in the background. My Dad and I probably sat in a dozen of those seats that are visible in this card.

 And the small man (every reference to Albie makes note of his size) got himself a small numbered card. 

Saturday, May 21, 2011

#136 Jim O'Toole The Sporting News Rookie Star

Hey, it's back to back Reds pitchers. Jim O'Toole spent only one year in the minors but it was a good one. He won 20 games with the Reds' Nashville AA affiliate in 1958 and earned himself a September 26 start with the big club. He lost a 2-1 decision to the reigning NL champion Braves and allowed only four hits and one earned run in 7 innings. He was relieved by Hal Jeffcoat who was featured yesterday.

After a shaky '59 season O'Toole came into his own with a 12-12 season in 1960. He became an elite starter in 1961 as he helped the Reds to the NL title by winning 19 games. He earned a start in the 1963 All Star game in Cleveland. He lost two games to Whitey Ford and the Yankees in the '61 Series.

O'Toole was among the better pitchers in the NL through the 1964 season when arm problems caught up with him. He struggled for three seasons and left the majors after a 1967 stint with the White Sox.

He tried to come back after spending 1968 with a couple of minor league teams, He attended spring training with the expansion Seattle Pilots cut didn't make the team. I guess he missed out on being a character in Jim Bouton's very entertaining Ball Four

Don't know what it is about these '59 Rookie Stars cards that makes me feel 'meh'. At least my O'Toole card has nice corners. 

Friday, May 20, 2011

#81 Hal Jeffcoat

Hal Jeffcoat began his career as an outfielder breaking in with the Chicago Cubs in 1948. But a weak bat led to his getting less and less playing time on the next several years. He had decent averages but no power. The Cubs saw something in his powerful arm however and turned him into a reliever. 

Two years in the Cubs' pen produced mixed results and in 1956 he was dealt to the Reds where he was eased into a starting role. He went 12-13 in 31 starts in 1957 and then returned to the bullpen for good, never making another start. In the summer of '59 he was dealt to the Cardinals but was out of the bigs after that season.

A season pitching in the PCL and a year as a minor league manager completed Jeffcoat's baseball days.

My Hal Jeffcoat card is among the worst in my set. Corners are very soft and rounded. I'm putting this one on my 'upgrade' list for sure. It's another of the Reds' spring training photos that have cropped up in this set. But the baby blue frame 'pales' in comparison to the black one we've seen previously.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

#290 Wes Covington

Wes Covington is shown here in his Milwaukee uni but my memories of him come from his days on the Phillies in the mid 60s. Those clubs were favorites of mine as was noted Sunday in my Johnny Callison post. 

Covington began in the Braves chain in 1952 and hit the bigs in 1956. He contributed a lot to the Milwaukee clubs that appeared in back-to-back World Series' in '57/'58. His 1958 numbers were especially impressive as he .329 with 24 homers in less than 400 at bats.

He had a whirlwind 1961 season as he became one of only nine players in MLB history to play for four different clubs in a season. He opened the year with the Braves, was claimed on waivers by the White Sox in May, was dealt to the A's in June and traded again to the Phils in July. I hope he didn't sign any long term leases that summer.

Wes had some solid seasons for those contending Philly clubs that I watched closely until he moved along to the Cubs and Dodgers to finish out his career in 1966. After his playing days he worked in the sporting goods business, in the newspaper business and returned to baseball as an executive with the PCL's Edmonton franchise.

My copy of this card is better than average (for my set) with moderately sharp corners and a nice gloss. I always love those Braves' "M" lids.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

#543 Corsair Outfield Trio

One of the great mysteries of my youth was....what the hell is a "corsair"? I figured it had something to do with pirates but I was never sure. 

Each of these guys has their own card in the set (I looked at Bob Skinner last month) so I'll comment only on the card itself. 

It's the best of three copies of this high number that I own. I pulled one from a $1 bin at a card show in January which looked like it had spent several summers in the spokes of a daredevil kid's bike. I bought it anyway just to have a copy as at that point I was getting anxious to finish the high numbers cheaply. 

I replaced that with an eBAY buy which turned out to be one of several in a lot that all looked a lot better in the listing than they looked when they arrived. I finally bought this one off eBAY for a better price and it's really in nice shape. I got a bargain after I'd jumped through the previous hoops. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

#515 Harmon Killebrew


EDIT... I heard this afternoon that Harmon Killebrew has passed away at the age of 74. This post was written on Monday prior to that news. This afternoon ESPN had this quote from Rod Carew:

• "This is a sad day for all of baseball and even harder for those of us who were fortunate enough to be a friend of Harmon's. Harmon Killebrew was a gem. I can never thank him enough for all I learned from him. He was a consummate professional who treated everyone from the brashest of rookies to the groundskeepers to the ushers in the stadium with the utmost of respect. I would not be the person I am today if it weren't for Harmon Killebrew. He was a Hall of Famer in every sense of the word." -- former Twins star and Hall of Famer Rod Carew

My original post:
Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew announced this week that he was losing his battle with esophageal cancer and was no longer going to go through treatments and was entering hospice care. Not much else to say about that. 

'Killer' (that doesn't seem like an appropriate moniker right now) is one of those players that seemed to draw fans to him in droves. The first post season baseball games I attended were the very first AL Playoff games in 1969 in Baltimore as they took on the Twins. (My aunt 'set me up' with a family friend for the Saturday game, but that's another story.)  Anyway I remember my uncle, devoted Birds fan that he was, saying that he loved Killebrew but he sure hoped he stunk up the place for a couple of days. Thats kind of how things were, everyone seemed to like Harmon Killebrew. Can't say if it was his cool and unique name, his powerful barrel-chested style or his seemingly friendly nature. But whatever it is nobody ever uttered a bad word about him that I ever heard. 

Killebrew, as noted on the card's cartoon, was signed by Washington as a 'Bonus Baby' which meant he had to remain on the Senators roster for a couple of seasons beginning in 1954. In '56 he began splitting time between the Nats and their farm clubs but in 1959, having never really given indication that he could succeed at the highest level, he came into his own. That year he grabbed a starting job and put up numbers that earned him MVP votes and his first All Star appearance.

That was the first of six times he led or tied for the AL homer crown. Over the course of 22 seasons, in Washington, Minnesota and for one final year Kansas City, Harmon Killebrew smacked 573 homers, was named to 12 All Star teams, took home the 1969 MVP trophy and in general punished opponents around the American League. 

There is an interesting subplot that involves Killebrew and the distinctive MLB logo seen near the bottom of this post. Is the logo based on this picture? 

Harmon thinks so and addresses it in a USA Today story. The guy who designed the logo claims it isn't. Uniwatch blogger and ESPN contributer Paul Lukas delved into it  further with an ESPN article.

Harmon and his wife have run a charitable foundation for many years. He has a website and if you click the foundation link you can go to Harmon's statement about his health and plans as well as sent him a message. Here's to you, Killer. God Bless.

BTW...it doesn't show in the scan but I put a crease and a gouge in this card when I was removing it from the grading case it came in. I'll be more careful next time.

Monday, May 16, 2011

#444 Ronnie Hansen

I'm sure someone out there can clarify this for me. How many players have had regular Topps cards prior to a "Rookie Stars" type card? Ron Hansen (who called him 'Ronnie' except his grandmother?) is one. This is his 'rookie' card but he has a 1960 Sport Magazine Rookie Star card a year later. That card is at the bottom.

Anyway, he was the American League Rookie of the Year in 1960. He beat out fellow Orioles Chuck Estrada and Jim Gentile. Only those three Baby Birds got votes. Cool. In my mind both of those other guys had superior numbers but I believe Hansen's standout job at the demanding shortstop position helped him garner that award.

Hansen battled back problems his whole career. They (along with a military stint in 1962) cost him whole chunks of several seasons. But even with his physical issues he showed pretty good power for a middle infielder, twice topping the 20 homer mark and regularly finishing with double digit dingers. 

The O's swapped Hansen to the White Sox in a deal that brought Luis Aparicio to Charm City before the 1963 season. He held down the starting SS job there until a trade sent him to Washington in February of 1968. That deal brought Tim Cullen to the Sox. What makes that significant is that Hansen was traded back to the Sox by the Senators for Tim Cullen on August 2nd of that same season. Thus Hansen and Cullen became the only two players traded for each other twice in the same season. (As an aside... I would have figured the Yanks and A's would have pulled that trick at some point in the 50s).

1968 also gave Ron Hansen a moment in the sun when while playing for the Senators on July 30 he pulled off the first unassisted triple play in 41 years in the bottom of the first inning against the Indians. So if you are following along the triple play came three days before the trade back to the White Sox. What did Hansen do between those two landmark evens? Why he struck out six consecutive times and then hit a grand slam on August 1. I swear, the stuff you learn doing this is amazing.

My Hansen '59 card is one of the rare ones in my set that's not off center. In fact it's a pretty nice card. It's also one of the few I intentionally upgraded over an original Oriole collection example.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

#119 John Callison The Sporting News Rookie Stars

If I ever had a National League team when I was growing up it was the mid-60s Phils. Don't know why but I suspect I was just trying to be different from my friends who were Giant, Met and Dodger fans. That seems like something I'd do.

And if I had a favorite on the Phillies it was Johnny Callison. He came up with the White Sox but made his career with the Phils. He was several time All Star with good power, a touch of speed and played right field smoothly. In 1964 he was runner-up to Ken Boyer in the MVP voting in the NL and was the MVP of the All Star Game. He earned that honor with his walk off three run dinger off Red Sox' closer Dick Radatz.  He led the NL in triples a couple of times, doubles once. Stints with the Yankees and Cubs came as his playing days wound down.

My copy is the first one I've dealt with that has the ragged border I associate with Topps 70s cards and especially O-Pee-Chees. Then there's the crease across the top of Johnny's head to say nothing of the scuff in the upper left. This card looks better in person than it does in the scan. You'll have to trust me on this one. I really like the back of the card blurb which asserts that "...he still swings at some bad pitches...". LOL Nice.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

#36 Hank Aguirre

I've been really lucky. I've gotten to see some cool things in ballparks, stadiums and arenas throughout my life. One of my favorite memories comes from an otherwise unremarkable trip to Yankee Stadium in June of 1967. It was a Sunday doubleheader, we went to a lot of those. This time the Tigers were in town and in a quick first game the Yankees' Al Downing took care of Mickey Lolich and company, 5-0. I remember nothing about that game. The second game, however, produced a golden moment of my life as a baseball fan. Tiger starter Hank Aguirre, one of the worst hitter of his or any era, stepped up to the plate in the top of the second with the bases loaded. Aguirre swung and bat met ball sending it deep into the Stadium outfield, splitting the outfielders and bouncing off one of the famous monuments. Aguirre loped (I remember him 'loping') and ended up at third with his only career triple. He sat on the base laughing for a moment.

I had hoped there might be a video someplace. Didn't find one but I did manage to find several references to Aguirre's triple through the magic of Google. Those pages were the first references I'd seen of his joking threat to steal home! And I hadn't remembered that the Yanks had walked Ray Oyler to get to Aguirre. 

Hank Aguirre, Californian of Mexican descent, began his career with the Indians in 1955 pitching in parts of three seasons as he split his time between the Tribe and the minors. After a trade to the Tigers Aguirre worked regularly out of their bullpen with a detour to the minors in '59.

In 1962 he became a member of the Tiger starting staff and won a career high 16 games, led the league with a 2.21 ERA and made his only All Star squad. By 1967 he was back in the bullpen. Ironically the game I witnessed was his only start of that season and in it he made his only two at bats.

He pitched for the Dodgers in 1968 and ended his career with a stay on the Cubs staff during 1969/1970. He retired to a life as a businessman/entrepreneur and even inspired a book about his life targeted to young teens. 

How's that for a card story? 

Friday, May 13, 2011

#163 Sandy Koufax

Well what better way to rebound from the mundane adventures of the five Smiths than a card of the best lefty I've ever seen, Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax.

There isn't much I can contribute here to what can be found in dozens of other places on the web about Koufax. He (like myself) has Brooklyn connections. He attended Lafayette High School which is where my father would have attended had he not opted for a specialized school in the Bronx. He attended the University of Cincinnati and walked on to their basketball team. And after tryouts with other clubs he caught the eye of the Dodgers and was signed as a 'bonus baby'. He languished in the bullpen with the Dodgers while trying to harness his amazing talents. His career blossomed in 1961 with an 18 win season and he never looked back.

In a 12 year career, Koufax had a 165–87 record with a 2.76 ERA, 2,396 strikeouts, 137 complete games, and he tossed 40 shutouts. He had 4 no-hitters including a perfect game. I saw him pitch once in person, in Shea Stadium on June 5, 1966, his final season. It was the first game of a doubleheader. He shut down the Mets, had two hits himself and prompted my father to want to leave between games saying "We've seen Koufax, why hang around for the next guy [Joe Moeller]?"

Koufax, of course, went out on top following the Dodgers' four game loss to my Orioles in the World Series. I take a little pride in the fact that my team was the last team to beat Sandy Koufax, besting him in Game Two.

I have all of Koufax' regular issue Topps cards. This is among my favorites. It's a nice portrait of a smiling Koufax that shows a different part of his normally austere persona. I hardily recommend Jane Leavy's biography of Koufax. It delves into his life on and off the field through the prism of his 1965 perfect game. Well worth the read.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

#83 Bob Smith

EDIT: Blogger's server down time has things screwed up. This Bob Smith post is being re-published after its mysterious disappearance.

This is the fifth of our Smiths... Bob Smith.... left-handed pitcher with four big league clubs between 1955 and 1959. To confuse matters his middle name is Gilchrist which makes him another Bob (or Bobby) G. Smith. And to further complicate matters there was another Bob Smith that was his teammate on the Louisville club in 1955. THAT Bob Smith was Bob Walkup Smith, a lefty pitcher who bang around the bigs for a couple of clubs in 1958/59. I'm damn glad HE didn't have a card in this set. My head is spinning. 

This Bob Smith was primarily a middle reliever having made eight starts among his 91 games. He finished with a 4-9 record and a 4.05 ERA. 

I don't think I am the only one who was thrown by all the Hal/Bob/Bobby Smith. The cartoon on the back of the card mentions how much outfield space he covers. Look familiar? It should, we saw the same text with  similar artwork on the back of Bobby G. Smith's card. That guy is the outfielder. Looks like Topps got it wrong, but who can blame them?