Saturday, June 30, 2012

#571 Warren Spahn '59 All Star Selection

This is one of the most off-center cards in my set. I doubt I'll upgrade it because 1) the All Star cards command a bit of a premium and 2) I'm not that big a fan of the design anyway.

The immortal Warren Spahn didn't pitch in either of the 1959 All Star games. But he did start the '58 game in Baltimore. The AL touched him up for 5 hits and a couple of runs but he didn't get a decision. Oddly in 1960 he wasn't selected to the NL squad but finished second in Cy Young voting. He must have been hurt. 

Thursday, June 28, 2012

#7 Al Pilarcik

Al Pilarcik is yet another player who spent time in the minors then did military duty before being dealt to a second organization with whom he made his major league debut.

Pilarcik, an Indiana boy, was signed by the Yankees in 1948. He spent four years in their system then went to Korea for the '53-'54 seasons. Upon his return the talent-rich Yanks traded him to Kansas City and he debuted with the A's in July of that year. After the season he was traded to the Orioles and he spent four season in Baltimore.

He was a starting outfielder for the Orioles for much of that time, hitting a career high .282 in 1959. It was in the 1960 season that he got a 'brush with greatness' when he caught the flyball that Ted Williams hit in his next to last at bat (Ted's final out) and was in rightfield when Williams homered over his head in his final at bat before retiring. 

Pilarcik spent the 1961 season back with the A's and then the White Sox before retiring himself. He earned a masters from Purdue University and taught and coached for the next 31 years. Al Pilarcik died in 2001. He's a member of the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame.

You can catch a brief (and I do mean brief) view of Al Pilarcik as the Ted Williams homer sails over his head and into the Sox bullpen.


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

#207 George Strickland

And here we have George "Bo" Strickland, good field, no hit (much) infielder for the Pirates and Indians. Strickland was a Dodger signee who played a year in their system (1943) and then gave two years to the service of his country, serving in the Pacific.

Upon returning Strickland was obtained by the Red Sox and after a whirl in their system was drafted by the Pirates. He debuted with the Bucs in 1950. By 1951 he'd claimed the full time shortstop job but hit only .217. After a slow start in '52 he was dealt to the Indians.

He was the regular shortstop in Cleveland in 1953 and hit a very respectable .284, a career high. But his numbers at the plate declined and eventually so did his playing time. He was hurt in 1954 but was able to return in time to get nine at bats in the Series against the Giants. He went hitless. 

By 1958 he had decided to retire (as noted on the back of the card) but returned for another major league spin in 1959 and was again a full time player that year, now at thirdbase. Again after a slow start in 1960 the Indians released him and Strickland's career on the field was over.

He coached for several teams through the 1960's and had a couple of brief turns as the Indians' manager. He later worked as para-mutual manager for Fairgrounds Race Track in New Orleans. He died in 1990.

Strickland seems to be smiling in a lot of his photos. I'm glad to see a happy player. This is an upgraded card in my set. Pretty good shape with good corners. I spy Yankee Stadium green on that dugout. And, as an aside, that jersey he's wearing is nearly identical to the ones the Indians wore on Sunday against the Astros. They looked very nice.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

#50 Willie Mays

Attempting to write a relevant post on Willie Mays is pretty silly. What can I had that can't be seen in about 5,000 other places, and much more comprehensively? Hell, even his page on the Hall of Fame's site refers readers to Baseball Reference!

I'll just do what I've done with superstars before, toss out someone else's list of the Say Hey Kid's accomplishments and talk about what I saw of Mays and a bit about this card.

Try these on for size... cribbed from Willie's Baseball Reference Bullpen page:

Notable Achievements

  • 1951 NL Rookie of the Year Award
  • 20-time NL All-Star (1954-1973)
  • 2-time NL MVP (1954 & 1965)
  • 1963 All-Star Game MVP
  • 1968 All-Star Game MVP
  • 12-time Gold Glove Winner (1957/ML-CF, 1958-1960/NL-CF & 1961-1968/NL-OF)
  • NL Batting Average Leader (1954)
  • 2-time NL On-Base Percentage Leader (1965 & 1971)
  • 5-time NL Slugging Percentage Leader (1954, 1955, 1957, 1964 & 1965)
  • 5-time NL OPS Leader (1954, 1955, 1958, 1964 & 1965)
  • 2-time NL Runs Scored Leader (1958-1961)
  • NL Hits Leader (1960)
  • 3-time NL Total Bases Leader (1955, 1962 & 1965)
  • 3-time NL Triples Leader (1954, 1955 & 1957)
  • 4-time NL Home Runs Leader (1955, 1962, 1964 & 1965)
  • NL Bases on Balls Leader (1971)
  • 4-time NL Stolen Bases Leader (1956-1959)
  • 20-Home Run Seasons: 17 (1951, 1954-1968 & 1970)
  • 30-Home Run Seasons: 11 (1954-1957, 1959 & 1961-1966)
  • 40-Home Run Seasons: 6 (1954, 1955, 1961, 1962, 1964 & 1965)
  • 50-Home Run Seasons: 2 (1955 & 1965)
  • 100 RBI Seasons: 10 (1954, 1955 & 1959-1966)
  • 100 Runs Scored Seasons: 12 (1954-1965)
  • 200 Hits Seasons: 1 (1958)
  • Won a World Series with the New York Giants in 1954
  • Baseball Hall of Fame: Class of 1979

Wanna read about Willie Mays? Try this page on Amazon

Here's a look at his famous 1954 World Series catch for the one guy who's been held captive on a remote island for 60 years:

My best friend growing up was a Giant fan, as was his father. I made lots of trips out to Shea Stadium when the Giants were in town. My friend, of course, idolized Willie Mays. I was pretty much just awed by him. (My favorite Giant was Jim Ray Hart.)

My copy of this card, as you can see, isn't among my best from the set. It's got one dinged corner and suffers from some discoloration. But over-all it's very presentable. If your going to collect a vintage set and not sell off most of your assets you have to make some compromises when it comes to the big ticket cards.

This was likely a '58 shot of Mays. I wonder if he missed New York at that point?

Friday, June 22, 2012

#382 Curt Simmons

Curt Simmons was a highly sought after high school and amateur pitcher in his Pennsylvania region in 1947. The Phillies landed him with the largest bonus ever paid to that point. The Phils had, in fact, agreed to play an exhibition game in Simmons town in the summer of '47 in order to get an up close and personal look at him. 

The 'bonus baby rules' in effect at the time allowed Simmons one year at the minor league level and then the Phils carried him on their roster for a couple more before he became a front-liner in 1950. He won 17 that year and received a bit of MVP consideration. He was called to the National Guard before he had any chance to pitch for the 'Whiz Kids' in the Series that season.

He had quite a bit of success for the Phils over the next decade, winning 86 games for some weak Phillie clubs. He made three NL All Star squads during that time. After a sore arm caused the Phils to release him in 1960 Simmons signed with the Cardinals and got his second wind. 

The veteran lefty backed up ace Bob Gibson for a St. Louis club that won the '64 pennant and gave him his only taste of the post season. He made two starts in the Series against the Yanks, pitched well despite losing his only decision and got a championship ring.

After one more effective season Simmons wrapped up his career with the Cubs and Angels before retiring following the 1967 season.

His hometown of Egypt Pa. held a parade and a day in his honor just this month. One interesting anecdote from Simmons amateur days concerns a Legion Baseball All Star game he pitched in. The 'managers' were Carl Hubbell and Babe Ruth. Supposedly when Ruth saw Simmons hit and play the outfield after his turn on the mound he suggested to Simmons giving up pitching to concentrate on his other baseball skills. 

Pretty much a standard pose here, Connie Mack Stadium and a green border make a nice frame of the bright Phils duds Simmons is wearing. Clean card with nice corners, too.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

#400 Jackie Jensen

People don't talk much about Jackie Jensen these days but in his time, particularly during his Red Sox days in the second half of the 1950s, he was an excellent ballplayer.

A California boy, Jensen was a Navy vet when he attended Cal and starred on the football field despite not even being a football scholarship recruit. His play on the baseball field at Cal got him a contract with the Oakland Oaks of the PCL and he played a year there before the Yankees signed him for a 1950 debut. He was touted as Joe DiMaggio's replacement but a lack of production and the logjam of talent in New York (Hello, Mr. Mantle) got Jensen a ticket to the Senators in 1952 and then it was on to the Red Sox in 1954.

He became a star alongside Ted Williams and nobody, not Williams nor Mantle drove in more runs during the time he patrolled rightfield at Fenway between 1954 and 1959. He had won the 1958 AL MVP when this card was fresh.

But he suffered from a fear of flying and retired after the '59 season. He made an attempt at a comeback in 1961 but couldn't overcome his flying jitters. He he went on to work for for ABC TV and was also the baseball coach for the University of Nevada, Reno, and at his alma mater, Cal Berkeley. He moved to Virginia, where he became a tree farmer and established the Jackie Jensen Baseball Camp.

A couple of interesting page for more of Jackie Jensen's life is here and this Sports Illustrated Vault page is well worth the read. And still more about Jensen... his College Football Hall of Fame page, and from his Oakland Oaks days.

Jensen is one of those guys, like Rocky Colavito, that I collect casually. I'll pick up a card if I find one that is reasonable but I don't go searching for specific ones and I haven't created a want list. 

I had a lesser conditioned '59 before I ever dreamed of collecting this set and I knew I had to upgrade it. I think this one is the first of the cards I grabbed off eBay when I went after the whole set. Obviously 'off-centeredness' hasn't been a problem for me.

My first and favorite Jansen card:

Jensen on some 1950's covers:

Sunday, June 17, 2012

#84 Reno Bertoia

When I saw this card my first thought was that Reno Bertoia was actually a 1950's teen singing sensation. You know, one of the guys that bobby soxers screamed and cried over. But no, he was a vet of 10 years in the majors, most of them with the Tigers.

He was born Pierino Peter Bertoia in Italy in 1935 and his family moved to Ontario before his second birthday.

Bertoia was a 'bonus baby' signee of the Tigers and had to be kept on the roster under the rules through the 1955 season. Among other tidbits included in this article Bertoia got a trip to Italy for his mother as part of his bonus. He spent most of '56 in the minors but emerged in 1957 with a platoon role as an infielder. He hit .275 that year in about a hundred games but regressed the following season and was traded to the Senators. 

He had his one season as a full timer in 1960 but in 1961 he was shuttled from the Twins to the A's and then back to the Tigers. He was released by Detroit early in 1962. He played in Japan for a bit in 1964 but returned to the States after a few weeks because his son had been ill.

Here's another in a line of nicely conditioned cards that have made the blog. It's a Yankee Stadium shot and has Bertoia in his Tigers uni. With so many of the Tiger cards being red framed it took me a bit to realize the card has a Nats logo. 

Friday, June 15, 2012

#152 Johnny Klippstein

I remember seeing Johnny Klippstein pitch but I was very surprised to find that his pro career went back to 1944. He was property of the Cardinals, Dodgers (and Uncle Sam for 1946) before he debuted with the 1950 Cubs.

Beginning as a spot starter and reliever he held that sort of role for the Cubs and Reds until 1958 when he was traded back to the Dodgers mid season. From that point he called the bullpen his home as he pitched for the Indians, Senators, Reds (again), Phils, Twins and Tigers until he retired after the 1967 season. 18 major league seasons for eight different teams. Along the way he acquired the nickname of "Wildman" because of the control problems he suffered throughout his career.

Klippstein pitched in the '59 Series for the Dodgers and the '65 Series for the Twins. He led the AL in saves in 1960 and the NL in hit batsmen in 1956. He led each league once in wild pitches.

Klippstein, who began his career with the Cubs, remained a Cub fan right up until his death in 2003. He passed away at home in Chicago after a long string of health issues. He'd been a season ticket holder at Wrigley Field.

This was one of my #1 priority upgrades at the card show last week. It's one of my five favorite cards among those I've already posted. Classic baseball card follow-through pose, terrific light green border complimenting the Dodger colors well. Really great card all the way around. My original copy had a crease and very soft corners. For a buck or two I grabbed this much nicer one.  

Just or fun here are his first and last regular baseball cards. There were a lot of miles and a lot of walks between these two shots.

1951 Bowman and 1967 Topps

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

#165 Bill Bruton

Bill Bruton sure looks happy. I'll bet he looked the same way when he broke in with the Braves in 1953 and began his career with a 10 for 18 run in the first four major league games he played. He hit the first homer ever in County Stadium, a walk-off job against the Cardinals in his second game ever.

Except for a serious knee injury that sidelined him in 1957 he was the Braves centerfielder through 1960. He missed the '57 Series but was 7 for 17 with a homer in the 1958 Series loss to the Yanks. He led the NL in steals his first three seasons. On August 2 of 1959 Bruton his two bases loaded triples against St Louis. Hank Aaron, Joe Adcock and Andy Pafko were the guys scoring on both triples. (Wikipedia states he hit three triples, how shocking that they are wrong!)

Bruton was traded to the Tigers after the 1960 season and he only yielded his full time slot at the Tigers centerfielder in his final season, 1964. Bruton hit a career .273 and played a solid game defensively. I'd say he's one of the better players who never made an All Star team. Of course in those days there were some pretty solid centerfielders in both leagues.

Bruton is a member of the Delaware Sports Hall of Fame

Nice looking card in very nice shape. Again the Milwaukee cap puts it over the top. That and the sharp corners.

It was brought up in the comments that the back of the card lists Bruton's date of birth as 12/22/29 while Baseball Reference and several other sites I checked have it as 11/9/25. That's a big difference.

Bruton's 1963 (and the '61) Post Cereal card also list the 1929 date. Interesting. 

(This is a borrowed image)

EDIT #2:

Topps '54 card had the '29 date as well. (This is a borrowed image as well)

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

#135 Gene Oliver The Sporting News Rookie Star

Gene Oliver spent three productive seasons in the minors and was well on his way to another one when he was called up to the Cardinals in early June of 1959. He put up some decent numbers for the club the rest of that year but not good enough to keep him in the bigs. 

He made the Cards as a nearly every day player in 1962 and in 1963 was dealt to the Braves. He spent four more years there and showed good power while playing in left, at first and behind the plate. Stops with the Phils, Red Sox and Cubs rounded out Oliver's playing days. 

He retired in 1969 and his post playing days included some minor league coaching, a fling in Illinois politics and working with Randy Hundley's fantasy camp organization. 

Oliver was the only player to hit over .400 against Sandy Koufax among those with 50+ at bats. He died in 2007.

Check the cartoon caption.."Halt Vile Thief". LOL

Sunday, June 10, 2012

#531 Ray Webster

Ray Webster is a high number card in the '59 set and they command somewhat of a premium. Webster's short major league career doesn't justify the cost. He was plucked from the PCL by the Indians in 1958 and made his debut in '59.

That year he appeared in 40 games as an infielder and hit .203 in 73 at bats before a late season call to military service. He was then traded to the Red Sox where he played in a handful of games in 1960 before returning to the minors for good. He retired after the 1963 season and has owned an insurance company in California ever since.

Playing on the same field as Ted Williams is one of the thrills listed by Webster in recounting his career. I bet he's not alone there.

An unremarkable card design wise. But in pretty nice shape overall. 

Friday, June 8, 2012

#215 Jim Lemon

After some limited action with the Indians in 1950 and 1953 (sandwiched around a military tour) Jim Lemon was purchased by the Senators and went on to play six seasons as a regular for the Nats/Twins franchise. Over that time he hit 143 homers with a couple of 30+ totals. 

Lemon never hit over .284 and tended to strike out quite a bit but he did make the 1960 AL All Star squad and he led the AL with 11 triples in 1956.

As his career wound down he played with three clubs in 1963 (the Phils and White Sox in addition to the Twins) and called it a day. He stayed in the game as a coach for the Twins and as manager of the expansion Washington Senators. 

He's a member of the Virginia Hall of Sports Fame.

A stained corner and gum stained back detract from my copy of this card. But the most interesting aspect is probably Lemon's expression. I think he saw something far more interesting than the Topps photographer off to his right.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

#339 Roy Face

I can't recall anyone calling him 'Roy'. I always referred to him as 'Elroy' Face. No matter. He was a real relief star of the late 50s and 60s. In an era when save totals were much lower than they are now Face led the league three times, once with 17. He was among the first to take on the role of 'closer' as we know it today. He featured the 'fork ball', a unique pitch he learned from the Yankee's Joe Page.

In 1959 he won 18 games and lost only one, all in relief. He finished seventh in MVP votes that year. Face made three NL All Star squads. In the 1960 Series against the Yankees he saves three of the four Pirate victories. He was property of the Pirates after being drafted off the Brooklyn Dodgers roster in 1952. The Dodgers had drafted him from the Phillies. Branch Rickey was the 'drafter' in both cases. He had begun as a spot starter and reliever but quickly found his place in the bullpen.

He finished his major league career with a brief look by the Tigers and a year in Montreal with the fledgling Expos in 1969. He then pitched a bit of minor league ball in 1970 before exchanging his glove for a band saw and making his living as a carpentry foreman.

I like how Face posed for this card by taking a peek over his shoulder as a reliever would who had entered a game with a runner on. Aside from the mis-cut this is one of the better conditioned cards in my set.

Monday, June 4, 2012

#519 Infield Power

I guess 'Power' is a relative term. This card features Pete Runnels, Dick Gernert and Frank Malzone of the Red Sox.

In 1958 Gernert hit 20 homers, good for 12th in the AL. Malzone had 15 which placed him in a tie for 20th but Runnels had which tied his career high to that point and was only the second time he had hit more than three. To be fair, Runnels did nearly win the batting title in '58 but 'power'? I can't see it.

Malzone and Runnels played in the first games I ever saw at Memorial Stadium in June of 1962 when they both started both ends of a doubleheader against the Orioles. Neither did anything special. I did see Carl Yastrzemski homer off Milt Pappas and Boog Powell hit a titanic homer over the hedges in center field. He was the first to ever reach that spot with a dinger.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

#76 Bobby Richardson

No matter how big a Yankee Hater you are I don't think you could find a reason to hate Bobby Richardson. I saw him signing autographs at a small card show in New Jersey some years ago and he was gracious and thoughtful with a smile and a word for every kid and grown-up in the line. 

Richardson signed with the Yankees out of Sumpter, N.C. in 1953 and on the 700 Club website* he tells a story of arriving in New York as a green signee for a workout at Yankee Stadium:

I signed right out of high school when I was 17 and I was given a four day trip to New York to work out with the Yankees. Took the train from Sumter to New York. Checked into the hotel in New York. Took a cab out to Yankee Stadium. I was told to put on my uniform and walk out onto the field and take some balls out at second base and to take some batting swings in the batting cage before the ball game. Well, I took the ground balls at second, but I was too embarrassed to step in front of anybody in the batting cage, and Mickey Mantle came up and put his arm around me and said, “Come on kid, step in here and take some swings.”From that moment on, a special friendship between Mickey and Bobby developed. They played together until Bobby retired in 1966 after an 11-year career. They shared three World Series championships. Mickey always admired Bobby’s faith and the two remained close, long after their playing days.
His relationship with Mickey Mantle is a theme that runs though most of what you read about this solid fielding Yankee. He gave the eulogy at Mantle's funeral in 1995. After a few outstanding minor league seasons and a couple of peeks at the bigs he came up for good in 1957 and established himself as the everyday 2nd baseman by 1959.

Richardson's career included seven All Star appearances, five Gold Gloves, three Wold Series titles with a career .305 average in the Series, and despite the heartbreaking loss to the Pirates, the 1960 World Series MVP award.

I remember distinctly the snag he made off the bat of Willie McCovey that ended the 1962 Series when the Giants had the winning runners on.

My Richardson card is definitely on my 'upgrade needed' list. It's got very soft corners and some scuffs and discoloration. Even so it's one of my favorite cards in the set.

*=I'm guessing that'll be the only link I ever have to the 700 Club website!