Thursday, May 31, 2012

#175 Dick Farrell

When I think of 'Turk' Farrell I think of hard drinking and fast living. That was the reputation he had whether it was earned or not. But there are plenty stories around Houston baseball circles that make me think there is a lot of truth behind the myth.

Farrell spent several seasons as a starting pitcher moving up the Phils minor league ladder before his 1956 debut and then earning a full time bullpen slot in 1957. He had four solid seasons with the Phils including an All Star selection before a shaky start in '61 prompted a trade to the Dodgers. He was drafted in the expansion draft by Houston and was converted back into a starter. 

He made three All Star squads with the Colt 45s/Astros before being sold to the Phils in May of 1967 for a return engagement. The Phils turned Farrell into a reliever and he was generally effective before he pitched in the minors in 1970/71 and then he retired with a 106-111 record and 87 saves.

Ferrell moved to England and worked on offshore rigs in the North Sea before he died in a car accident in 1977 at the age of 43. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

#3 Don McMahon

Don McMahon pitched in 874 major league games over 18 seasons.He made only two starts. He made his first save in 1957 and his last in 1974. His professional career ran from 1950 when he debuted with the Owensboro Oilers, the Class D Boston Braves affiliate in the K-I-T League, until he pitched a couple of innings for the Giants against the Dodgers in June of 1974. That's 25 seasons. I think that's pretty cool. 

McMahon pitched for seven clubs over the course of his career and made the post-season with three of them. As a member of the Braves he pitched in the 1957 and '58 Series' against the Yankees. He was particularly effective in the '57 Classic, pitching 5 innings over three games and finishing all three. He never got a decision of a save in the post-season but he did come away with two rings, the second with the Tigers in 1968.

For his career McMahon was 90-68 with a 2.96 ERA and 153 saves. He led the NL with 15 saves in 1959. That speaks to how different pitching roles were back then. He had been an All Star the previous year but that was his only All Star selection. I think he deserved more.

Following his retirement as an active player McMahon served a pitching coach for the Giants, Twins and Indians for many years. He was a special assignments scout for the Dodgers after that.

McMahon died of a heart attack in 1987 at the age of only 57 while pitching batting practice at Dodger Stadium. 

Sunday, May 27, 2012

#60 Bob Turley

The back of Bob Turley's card hints at the remarkable 1958 season he enjoyed prior to this card being issued early in '59. 

Turley had been a St. Louis Browns signee in 1948. He made his big league debut late in 1951 and was still with the team when they moved to Baltimore for 1954. He won 14 games for a very mediocre O's club that year including the first one ever played at Memorial Stadium. 

In November of '54 he was traded to the Yankees in one of the largest trades (numbers wise) in baseball history. It was a fortunate deal for Turley who went on to pitch for five Yankee pennant winners and earned a pair of World Series wins.

His best season came in '58 as he won a career high 21 wins and 19 complete games. That led the league in both categories. He was named to the All Star team (see the last post) and won the Cy Young award. Turley's real heroics came in the Series that year versus the Braves. But it didn't seem that Turley would be a hero after his Game Two start when he was knocked around and run off in the first inning of a Braves laugher.

But he came back in Game Five to toss a fit hit shutout. After an off day he appeared in the tenth inning of Game Six and preserved a win for Ryne Duran. Then in the deciding Game Seven Turley relieved Don Larson in the third inning and held the Braves to two hits and a run to wrap up the title for the Yanks.

Although he stayed in the majors until he retired after splitting the 1963 season between the Angels and Red Sox, Turley never again approached the success he had in 1958. In fact he averaged about five wins a year after that magical season.

He spent a year coaching then went into the financial management business and was very successful. He lives in Georgia.

The orange frame on these '59s is always nice. Turley's picture, posed in pregame I assume, along the side of the Yankee Stadium batting cage is very much like the one used in his All Star Selection card. No need for Dick Tracy to see they were taken at the same session. This one is one of the better cards I have. Not mint by any means but the colors are bright and all but one corner is sharp.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

#570 Bob Turley '59 All Star Selection

"Bullet Bob" Turley was coming off his best season when 1959 dawned. His exploits explain why he was selected to appear as the right handed pitcher for the AL All Star subset. But he didn't make the All Star squad that year and, in fact, his best pitching was behind him.

The '58 All Star game in Baltimore was his third and last. He was KO'd in the second inning having given up three hits, two walks and three runs in an inning and two thirds. But better things were in store for him in 1958. Those will be discussed in the next post.

The '59 card was his second straight appearance on one of these specials. He showed up as an All Star selection in the '58 Topps set. Defying almost all logic I prefer the '58 All Star cards. My '59 is about par for the course condition-wise., decent corners and somewhat mis-cut.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

National League by Color.... and random things

This is third installment of my breakdown of the '59 Topps set. This one looks at the National League cards. First up is a summary of the base one player cards. (The AL and a whole set summary were in my previous posts.)

NL Observations: .......No one team had a single color dominate as thoroughly as the Tigers were covered with red to the tune of 84%...... Milwaukee's 19 of 26 in yellow led the way (that's 73% if you are scoring at home)..... The NL got 32 of the 33 total black framed cards in the set..... The NL has just 4 of the 95 red cards. The Phils, Cards and Reds each had seven different colors...... The Braves, Giants and Pirates had five...... Dodgers and Cubs had six different colors...... The Braves coming off two consecutive World Series appearances had the fewest base cards while the fifth place Cubs had the most.

And this chart breaks down the ancillary NL cards. Again 'High Lites' refers to the Baseball Thrills subset.

NL Observations: .......the Braves get a boost in their total card count with the All Star Selection subset but unlike the Yanks their total still ranks behind several other NL clubs.... every team card in the Senior circuit has yellow as one of its elements... the NL has only six 'one team' multi-player specials but they have the Ashburn/Mays special and Robin Roberts appears one the Ace Hurlers card so that narrows the gap... the Pirates, second place finishers in 1958, were given three multi-player specials, all were red and yellow in one combo or another.... the Ashburn/Mays card is green and white which makes it the only NL special without a yellow element.

Final Thoughts.... Topps liked yellow in 1959, they used it on 14 of 17 multi-player specials, 14 of 16 team cards, and more than a quarter of all the base player cards.... I also noticed that the Cubs and Tigers team cards include the designation "Team" following the name i.e. "Detroit Tigers Team" as opposed to just "Detroit Tigers".. can't think of why that would be.... my preferred frame colors are black and dark blue which explains why I have so many favorite cards among the Phils' and Reds' cards.

That's it. I enjoyed doing the research. I know it all adds up to nothing but it does satisfy some of my curiosity about this great set. I would like to find a series breakdown by card number as that would give me another view of the color distribution. I just haven't googled deep enough to find it. And I'd bet someone out there has the set on uncut sheets. How cool would it be to lay them out end to end to see the color patern. Maybe spread out like that we'd see the yellow cards spell out 'TOPPS" or the name of Sy Berger's dog. Who knows.

It's back to regular card posting now. Thanks for reading. Comments always appreciated.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Categories and American League by Color

There are 572 cards in the '59 Topps baseball set. That doesn't take into account the card back variations like the included or not included 'optioned' or 'traded' line and the three different versions of the Spahn card back. Here we are interested only in the colors of the card fronts, especially the base card frames.

First, here is the total set by color of the base cards and the complete set listed by category:

Yellow and red frames dominate the set. And by a wide margin obviously. Yellow is far ahead of second place red. And the 95 red cards are more than double the number of any other color. Between the two they represent about 48% of all the single player base cards.

And here is the American League broken down by color of the base one player cards: 

Interestingly, among the AL cards red is the dominant color and 91 of the 95 red cards in the whole set  are of AL players. Four clubs clearly have red as their dominant color. The Tigers, in fact, have only five of their 31 cards in a color other than red. Yet, of the remaining four clubs, two don't have a single red card and the A's have only one. Of those other four only the Red Sox are not primarily represented by yellow framed cards. The Bosox have no color that they can call their signature color in the '59 set. 

AL observations.... Kansas City has the AL's only black frame and are the only team here that is represented by eight different colors. They lack a dark green card (ironically I think given their later history). They also are noteable in that there are six colors which appear on one or two of their players' cards.... the Yankees have the fewest total base cards (28). I'd have lost a bet on that one..... the White Sox have cards in only three different colors while the Orioles, Tigers and Yankees are seen with four....

This next chart tracks the colors of the team card (the frame is listed first, inner circle color next). It also shows the number of players each team has in the various subsets, All Star Selection, the Rookie Stars, Baseball Thrills (called High Lites in the chart's header), The center column gives the colors of the 'special multi-player cards (if they feature players from one specific team, called one team specials here). The same naming convention as the team card applies.

More AL observations... counting the specials the Yankees now have the most cards in the set of any AL club.... the White Sox total does not include the #156 Billy Pierce/Robin Roberts "Ace Hurlers". Counting that card would also give the ChiSox 38.... while it isn't too surprising that the Yanks had two multi-player special cards the fact that the Red Sox and Senators also have a pair of them probably is. Neither was a threat in the previous season, Boston was third, 13 games out and the Senators finished in last in '58, 31 games behind the Yanks.... every AL team card and all but one of the AL multi-player specials includes either yellow or red...

Next up: The National League

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Colors of 1959, an Overview

Among the reasons I have enjoyed putting together the 1959 Topps baseball set is the aesthetic appeal. The combination of posed photos and portraits and the circular frames made it stand out from the other sets I considered. I'm a fan of the '58 set because those cards are the first I actually remember being aware of. The 1960 set was the first I actively collected. But the '59 just kept stood out.

When I jumped into putting the set together I already owned the Orioles and a group of stars and commons, maybe 20 or so. I noticed that the Orioles' team 'set' was mostly of the yellow 'frame' variety with some blue and red cards mixed in.

As I picked up more and more cards it was apparent that some teams seemed to have one predominant colored frame. I knew that at some point I'd like to sit down and track the set's colors. I started the project a few times and finally had the time recently to sit down with my binder and catalog them one by one.

I made a simple spreadsheet to tally the colors as I flipped the binder pages. I made a few notes as I went along as well. Before giving the breakdown in the next post there should be some discussion of the colors themselves.The base, one player cards come in nine different color frames. Those colors are red, yellow, black, pink, orange, light blue, dark blue, light green and dark green. Each of the colors has a consistent pattern of frame/player name/team name/position. All except one. When cataloging colors I began with ten colors. I had looked at the orange cards and seen at least two differing shades. But the more I looked the more convinced I became that the variations are simply due to the vagrancy of color printing in the late 50s. Even laying out the red cards side-by-side revealed some variations.

A look at each color in turn:

Red cards vary slightly in shade but it's seems obvious that the differences are just variations in the printed sheets. Red cards are where we see the difference in complimentary colors. Most have player names in white, team name in yellow and the player's position in white. But some have team names in white as well. Easy to see here:

There doesn't seem to be any correlation between the team lettering and color of the backs (different color combos and different cardboard colors were used), the team involved or the series in which the card was issued. 

EDITED to add: With Topps' history of yellow/white letter variation I thought that I should check closer into this. I've looked at a lot of the red cards online thinking there might be some sort of 'variation' involved with the player name color but every card I see online jives with the one in my binder. And given that I've never seen any mention of a lettering variation involving the '59s I am chalking the red card player name differences to 'just a Topps thing'. 

Dark Blue:
As opposed to the light blue also used. These have player names and positions in white, yellow team names.

January 2014 Update. I recently realized that there are two separate combos of colors involved on the light blue cards. Most of them follow the convention of the Curt Flood card below.

Light Blue type #1 (with black player names):
Black/black/white is the lettering combo.

But there is another combo used with this color frame. A comment on the Billy Harrell card entry mentions it as being exclusive to cards issued in the 5th Series. There are three total cards with this lettering combo, #433 Harrell, #436 Granny Hamner and #395 Elston Howard (shown below).

Light Blue type #2 (with white player names):
White/yellow/white is the lettering combo.

Dark Green:
White/yellow/white is the lettering combo.

Red/red/black is the lettering combo.

All lettering is black.

Yellow/yellow/white is the lettering combo.

Light Green:
And here I see enough variation in the card frames to make note of it. But given the color combo is consistent across all shade variations I believe the differences are due to the printing process. Black/yellow/black  is the lettering combo.

The Gary Geiger card is from the high number Seventh Series and has a distinct 'lime-greenish' tinge to it. There is one other light green card in that series and the color is the same. As with other variations across colors I believe these to be simply printing anomalies. The lettering combos are the same across all the shades.

And finally, Orange:

I went back and forth in deciding whether of not Topps intended to print both 'orange' and 'red-orange' cards. The differences are easy to see:

Because the color of the lettering is consistent, white/black/white, and the fact that there are some cards that fall between the darkest and lightest examples, I think that the cards were intended to be 'orange' and the variations are again, due to the printing process used. And I'm going to list them as being in the same category. I wish I had more insight into all this. There might be more info on the net.

In the next post I'll break the set down into card 'type' and list the American League breakdown by frame color.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

#51 Rip Coleman

Walter Gary Coleman, better known as 'Rip' Coleman was a Yankee signee out of Syracuse and Wake Forest Universities in 1952. It took him four seasons to climb the ladder and he debuted with the Yanks in August 1955 after winning 12 games in Denver that season. 

His first game was a start against the Orioles. He was pretty shaky allowing five hits, five walks and six earned runs in five plus innings. Luckily for Rip the Yanks had their hitting shoes on that day and had staked him to a big lead. Bob Grim finished the game and Rip Coleman had a win. The O's starter and loser was Ray Moore whose card was recently profiled here.

Coleman pitched in nine more games that season and got into Game Four of the '55 Series against the Dodgers. He was hit hard in his inning plus allowing five singles and a couple of runs. He was also with the Yanks during the 1956 Series but didn't appear. Likely got a ring, though. 

After a 3-5 1956 season as a spot starter and reliever he was shipped to Kansas City (surprise!) for '57. He was in the minors for a portion of that year and then was knocked around and saddled with an 0-7 mark with the Athletics. Note that the back of his card calls it a "rough 1957 campaign"

After spending 1958 in the minors he went 2-10 in KC in 1959 before he was waived and picked up by the Orioles. He pitched sparing for the Orioles but kept posting some decent minor league stats before hanging up his spikes after the 1962 year. 

Some of these white cardboard cards give my scanner the jumps. I've tried to adjust the brightness and contrast with Google's online tools because I'm too lazy to re-scan it. Topps airbrushed the "A" onto Rip's cap. Probably over the "NY". They probably cropped it 'tight' to eliminate the need to do much with the pinstripes which are barely visible. I replaced a centered but bruised copy with this sharper but mis-cut version. 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

#293 Ray Moore

Right-hander Ray Moore, a Maryland native, was signed by the Dodgers in the mid-40s after being spotted playing ball with his army unit in the Philippines. But he had a long hill to climb in the talent-rich Brooklyn chain. He got looks in 1952 and '53 but it wasn't until he was traded to the Orioles for the 1955 season that he established himself in the bigs.

For three years as an Orioles Moore won double digit games, moving from a job as a spot starter and long reliever to a regular rotation spot in 1957. Traded to the White Sox in 1958 Moore transitioned back to a reliever role and appeared in one game of the '59 Series against the Dodgers, pitching one inning.

He was sold to the Senators midway through 1960 and spent the rest of his career with the Nats/Twins franchise as a better than average closer. He retired after the 1963 season and spent time farming and working with his favorite hounds.

Seeing another of the many red bordered White Sox cards reminds me of my task of cataloging the team/color ratios in this set. I started that once before. I'll get back to it soon.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

#300 Richie Ashburn

Richie Ashburn is one of six Hall of Famers born in Nebraska. The group consists of Bob Gibson, Wade Boggs, Sam Crawford, Grover Cleveland 'Pete' Alexander and Billy Southworth in addition to Ashburn.

Ashburn sandwiched a couple of years of burning up the Eastern League around a year of military service before breaking in with the Phillies in 1948. He batted .333 that year and led the NL in stolen bases. He finished third in Rookie of the Year voting.

He went on to have a great 12 year run as the Phils' centerfielder. He was a member of the 1950 Whiz Kids club that lost the Series to the Yankees. Through he career Ashburn played in the shadow of three great center fielders, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and Duke Snider. Except for the power those players possessed Ashburn was on a par with them in speed, average and roaming the outfield. He had the most hits of any player during the 1950s.

Traded to the Cubs in 1960 Ashburn played two seasons on the north side and was sold to the fledgling Mets for the 1962 season. He retired after a year in New York and soon went into broadcasting, a profession he had long had his eye on.

He broadcast Phils games from 1963 through his death in 1997. During that time he partnered with Bill Campbell, Byrum Saam and Harry Kalas. Baseball Almanac has a page of Richie Ashburn's quotes, most from his days in the booth. He was elected to the Hall by the Veterans' Committee in 1995.

I only saw Ashburn play in person once, as a Met in 1962. But the '59 card is how I (and most folks I'd expect) remember him. It's nice to see a picture in the set that wasn't taken in New York. Those red seats were a feature of Philadelphia's Connie Mack Stadium.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

#54 Mel Roach

Mel Roach was a rare duel threat, a successful athlete in two sports who looked like he didn't belong in either. In addition to being a major leaguer for eight seasons after signing a bonus contract with Milwaukee, Roach was a college quarterback at the University of Virginia. 

After he signed his Braves contract in 1953 he mostly sat on their bench and collected dust for two years. The rules at the time required a bonus signee remain on the big league roster. In two years Roach played in just eight games and came to bat six times. He did score a run once, and it was the winning run in the second game of a doubleheader against the Dodgers on August 6, 1953. Trailing 2-0 the Braves rallied in the bottom of the ninth. With two outs and two on Sid Gordon drew a walk to load the bases. Mel Roach was sent in to pinch run for him. Harry Hanebrink promptly tripled to clear the bases with Roach crossing the plate to end the game.

After a couple of years in the military Roach returned to play as a utility man and pinch hitter through the 1962 season. Most of that came with the Braves. He played for the Cubs in '61 after a trade from Milwaukee and, after passing through the Indians roster during that off season via a November deal, was dealt to the Phils in the spring of 1962, That year was his last in the majors.

He finished with seven homers and a .238 average. He was part of the Braves World Series championship club in 1957 although he didn't appear in any of the Series games.

This a a nice card. Good corners and it doesn't suffer from my collections 'mis-cut' curse. Plus the pale green border is cool. Best of all is the Braves "M" cap that Roach was lucky enough to wear.

Friday, May 11, 2012

#243 Marv Grissom

Marv Grissom looks like the state senator representing the western district of Nebraska, don't you think? Or maybe a parish priest. I can't decide. 

After a couple of minor league looks and a four year stint in the service during WWII Grissom finally debuted briefly as a 28 year old rookie with the New York Giants in 1946. He disappeared back to the minors soon after that and traveled through the Tigers organization before establishing himself with the White Sox in 1952. That year he started 24 games, won 12 of them and posted a respectable 3.74 ERA. But he was traded to the Red Sox prior to 1953. They waived him and he was claimed by the Giants in July of that year.

He spent that year and the next five as a bullpen stalwart for the Giants in New York and, in 1958, San Francisco. 1954 was his best season. He won 10 games and saved 19. He was an All Star that year and won a World Series ring by helping the Giants defeat the Indians.

Grissom won Game One of that Series, entering immediately after the famous Willie Mays catch of  Vic Wertz' shot to deep center. He finished out that game allowing a hit and three walks in 2.2 innings.

Grissom was traded to the Cardinals following the 1958 season and pitched briefly for them. He had injured his back in the spring and never got healthy. He retired in June of that year.

Following his career he served several clubs as a pitching coach. Over three stints he coached the Angels hurlers for 15 seasons. Marv's brother Lee pitched for four clubs in the 30s and 40s. Their nephew Jim Davis pitched for three clubs in the 50s. 

A nice interview of Marv Grissom appears on the web here and an obit here. This webpage makes the statement that Grissom was recommended to the Giants by Johnny Mize who played against him on service teams during their time in the Pacific. And Grissom has stated the same thing. Baseball Reference shows he was signed by the Giants in 1941. I don't know the significance of the fact that Grissom was a Giants farmhand before his service play. Or if it's just a coincidence. Or that it matters. 

Another pink border card. I don't know what the players felt about them when they got the freebies from Topps but I like them. There is a crease in the lower right corner that my scan hides pretty well. Marv is pictured in his Giants gear here.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

#572 Billy Pierce '59 All Star Selection

Is there a term for the highest numbered card in a set? If so you can apply it to Billy Pierce's All Star card. It's #572 in a 572 card set. But not nearly the last one to be posted, God willing.

This is the third Pierce card that has appeared here, following his 'special' Ace Hurlers card he shared with Robin Roberts and his Baseball Thrills card.

I'm fairly certain the this July, 1960 game, the opener of a Yankee Stadium doubleheader, pitched by Pierce, was the first game I saw in person. 

Monday, May 7, 2012

#61 Dick Brown

Dick Brown was signed by the Cleveland Indians in 1953 after attending Florida State University and made his debut with them four years later. In an interesting subplot, Brown was dating Herb Score's sister when Score was being signed by Cleveland and she is said to have suggested that the Indians sign Brown as well. He went on to play nine seasons in the big leagues for four clubs, all in the AL. 

His busiest year was with the Tigers in 1962 when he caught 132 games and was 12/40/.241. Those numbers were down from the previous year when he had played fewer games.

He played as a platoon catcher for the next three years in Baltimore but was forced to retire from playing after he was diagnosed with a brain tumor following the 1965 season. 

After some time spent scouting for the Orioles he passed away in April of 1970 at the age of 35. His brother Larry enjoyed a 12 season career in the American League from 1963 to 1974. 

Other than being miscut this card is in pretty nice shape. My scanner didn't do it any favors.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

#472 Gene Freese

Gene Freese played for six clubs in his 11 seasons in the majors. I'm guessing he was either real popular and coveted by GMs because of his versatility and solid if unspectacular hitting. Or, he kept disappointing GMs who though he looked like a real slugging infielder. I dunno. 

And for some reason I was under the impression he was related to the David Freese kid who plays for St. Louis. Nope, but he did have a brother who played big league ball briefly. 

While primarily a third baseman during his career Freese also played quite a bit at second and got in games at short and the outfield as well. 

He came up with the Pirates in 1959 and hit 14 homers while batting .253. He was in and out of the Pirates' plans for a few seasons before being dealt to the Cardinals in 1958. The 23 dingers he hit was his best homer season up to that point in his career but that didn't stop the Phils from dealing him to the White Sox. 

That was another one year stay and it was on to the Reds for 1961. 26 homers, 77 RBIs helped the Reds make it to the Series and earned Freese a couple more seasons in Cincy but he missed most of the '62 season after breaking an ankle and then it was back on the merry-go-round and visits to Pittsburgh (again), the White Sox (again) and finally the Astros in 1966. 

Then it was a couple of seasons in the minors before retiring. He managed a bit in the minors in the early 70s and even got a few cuts in for Shreveport in 1973. He managed Denny McLain that year, another guy hanging on to a dream for dear life (and a paycheck from what I understand).

After getting out of baseball for good Freese owned a nightclub in New Orleans. I bet doing that had at least a few interesting moments.

Gene Freese's brother George got a bit over 200 at bats during a few stints with a trio of big league clubs. He was primarily a minor league third baseman. He did play a season with his brother in Pittsburgh in 1955. George Freese is a member of the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame. That honor was earned as a player for the Portland Beavers in the late 50s. Here are the brothers Freese as Pirates.

Topps went to a lot of trouble to airbrush Freese into a Phillies uniform. Didn't do a half bad job, either. I'm almost 100% sure that's the Polo Grounds. I saw a few Mets games there but I sure can't remember it well enough to recognize it in that shot. Little help?

Thursday, May 3, 2012

#111 Cincinnati Red Legs

The 1959 Red Legs were the last of the Cincinnati clubs that used the 'Red Legs' moniker. The had adopted it in 1953 as a response to the McCarthy Era 'Red Scare' goings-on. The club switched back prior to the '59 season.  

Whatever the case the 1959 Red Legs/Reds were a pretty ordinary team. They had some firepower with Frank Robinson, Vada Pinson and Gus Bell.

Their pitching was anchored by an aging Don Newcombe who teamed with Bob Purkey to win 26 between them. 

Mayo Smith opened the season at the helm but, being 10 games below .500, was let go mid-year and replaced by Fred Hutchinson. 'Hutch' was able to squeeze a winning record out of his club over the second half and went on to become a  successful manager with the Reds winning the 1961 pennant.

Team cards have a certain charm I guess. I like the ones Topps produced a bit later that had club stats on the back. I especially liked the pitching record back cards. I was endlessly fascinated by stuff like how many times Dean Chance beat the Indians and similar arcane trivia. At least the checklist on the back of this one is unmarked.

NOTE: I had this scheduled for a future date but I'm pushing it through to try and clear the stray Ryan Callahan post that went up by mistake. That one still shows in the previews of this blog.

#516 Mike Garcia

Mike Garcia was known as the 'Big Bear'. Sometimes nicknames just fit, no? Garcia was part of the Indians' pitching troika of the 50's that also included Bob Feller and Bob Lemon. Those Indians' clubs were powerful but were hard pressed to climb past the Yankee teams of that decade. They took one pennant, that being in 1954. Each of the other seasons from 1951 thru 1956 they finished second to the Yanks.

By the time this card was issued Garcia was nearing the end of a excellent career. He began with a season in the Tribe's farm system in 1942 then spent three years in the military during World War II.

Returning to civilian life Garcia moved through the minors until he made his debut in 1948 with the Indians by pitching in the last scheduled game of the regular season. Garcia got a couple of innings work late in a game lost to Detroit by Bob Feller. That loss allowed the Boston Red Sox to catch the Indians and force the first AL playoff game. The Indians won that game the following day and eventually the World Series.

The next season Garcia had a regular rotation spot and won 14. Over eight seasons as a starter for the Indians Garcia won 138 games. He added a few more as his career played out. He made three All Star squads and pitched twice in the '54 Series against the Giants.

Garcia injured his back in the spring of 1958 and saw limited action. He was released in May but later re-signed for '59 but was released for the second time following a modest showing that year. He had a couple of stints with the White Sox in 1960 but spent the majority of that year as their batting practice pitcher.

He hooked on with the Senators for part of the '61 season. His last decision was a loss in relief to the Indians late that year.

As he posed in Yankee Stadium for this shot by the Topps photographer I can imagine Mike Garcia thinking "How tough can I look for this guy?" while the dude with the camera was wondering "Jeez, could he have hiked the damn pants up any higher?"

Me? I saw that card and thought "Hmmmm.. pretty nice copy of a high number card. I'll take it."

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

#235 Valmy Thomas

Oh, the stuff one learns. I was vaguely aware of Valmy Thomas only because he was once, briefly (8 games qualifies as 'briefly'), an Oriole. His home was the U.S. Virgin Islands although he was born in Santurce, Puerto Rico because his mother wanted what she believed would be better medical care. He's considered the first native of the Virgin Islands to play in the bigs.

Thomas, a catcher, played in Canada and across the Caribbean between the late 40's and 1951 when he played for the Pirates minor league club north of the border. A pay cut prompted him to 'retire' and he starred in the Dominican Republic for several seasons. SABR has a cool story of his years there online

He emerged as a Giants farmhand in 1956 after a year back in Canada for the Pirate chain. He debuted in 1957 for the Giants in New York. He travel to the West Coast when the Giants moved and played for the Phillies, Orioles and Indians in the three subsequent years. By doing do he became the only player to play in five cities in five seasons.

After his playing days he was a successful businessman and public servant in his native Virgin Islands. He passed away in 2010 and was honored by the Congressional Delegate from his homeland. Here is another article which highlights his life and career.

One odd note.... Thomas was shot and nearly killed by another ballplayer in a dispute over a woman in 1962. The link goes to a Sarasota Herald story that's a real eye opener, in several ways.

I'm guessing that the picture of Valmy Thomas on his '59 card was taken while he was a member of the Giants. I'm fairly certain that the Los Angeles Coliseum provides the background. As with the Ruben Gomez card of a few days ago this one has been re-done with a Phillies cap and pinstripes. My scanner cut off the top of the card, it's not as miscut as it appears.

Here's Valmy in his later years.

And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Ellie Hendricks, another native of VI who became a catcher for the Orioles. Try and find and O's fan who didn't love Ellie. 

Here is Ellie:

Two proud sons of the Virgin Islands.