Thursday, August 30, 2012

#420 Rocco Colavito

If there is a better name in baseball annals that 'Rocky' Colavito I'd like to hear it. Rocco Domenico Colavito grew up a Yankee fan in the Bronx but, after dropping out of high school, was signed by the Indians in 1951. He showed his power as a minor leaguer in the first half of the decade and made the Indians club as a regular in rightfield in 1956. 

Over the next decade he became the 5th American Leaguer to hit more than 20 homers in eleven consecutive seasons. During that tine he was involved in one of the most notable trades in baseball history. Coming off a league leading 42 home run season he was dealt to the Tigers in April of 1960 for the defending batting champ, Harvey Kuenn. Indians fans were in an uproar over the deal and books have been written that claim the trade triggered a curse that haunts the Indians to this day.

After an off year in 1963 Colavito was traded to Kansas City for the next season and then back to the Indians. As his career would down he played for the White Sox, Dodgers and Yankees. 

A list of his achievements follows:

  • 6-time AL All-Star (1959, 1961, 1962 & 1964-1966)
  • AL Slugging Percentage Leader (1958)
  • 2-time AL Total Bases Leader (1959 & 1962)
  • AL Home Runs Leader (1959)
  • AL RBI Leader (1965)
  • AL Bases on Balls Leader (1965)
  • 20-Home Run Seasons: 11 (1956-1966)
  • 30-Home Run Seasons: 7 (1958-1962, 1964 & 1966)
  • 40-Home Run Seasons: 3 (1958, 1959 & 1961)
  • 100 RBI Seasons: 6 (1959, 1959, 1961, 1962, 1964 & 1965)
  • 100 Runs Scored Seasons: 1 (1961)
Colavito has appeared here previously as a Baseball Thrills card (#462) subject that led to some fun detective work. I was able to find the origin of the picture used on the card and pinpoint the date of the actual play. 

Rocky was a popular player in his time and remains one today among fans and collectors.  This '59 card is cool but to me almost any Colavito card is. I think I upgraded this one a couple of times to get one I found worthy of representing one of my favorite players in this set. I've got about four or five vintage Colavitos and a modern one I've featured in my other blog. Isn't this a great card?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

#211 Bob Blaylock

Bob Blaylock was a Cardinal signee in 1953 after high school. He was a hard throwing righty and had some impressive numbers at times in the minors. He got a 1956 whirl with the Cardinals and went 1-6. That led to another stint in the minors.

Blaylock pitched the last of his 17 major league games in 1959. He started a September game against the Cubs after two other relief appearances and was beaten. He never returned to the majors, retiring prior to the 1963 season. His career numbers include a 1-7 record and a 5.94 ERA.

Blaylock owned and operated a motel after his playing days. There were three Blaylocks in the National League in the 50s. They were not related although Gary Blaylock also played on the Cardinals in '59 they were there at different times of the season. His name is a link to his card in this set. Marv Blaylock was an first baseman/outfielder for the Giants and Phils in mid-decade. He appeared in a couple of Topps sets, the last being 1957. Bob Blaylock did have a couple of grandsons, Justin Beal and Josh Beal that played minor league ball in the recent past.

Blaylock's card is nicer than his career. Always like the Polo Grounds in the background and Blaylock is wearing the mid '50s Cardinal road jersey that does not show off the iconic 'birds on a bat'. 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

#273 Joe Jay

Two things right of the bat (no pun intended). No one, and I mean NO ONE, well besides Topps, ever called him 'Joe' Jay. It was Joey Jay. J-O-E-Y Jay. And I believe it was written into the U.S. Constitution that Curt Gowdy was required to insert 'he is the first Little Leaguer to pitch in the majors' at least twice an inning every time Jay was on a Game of the Week, even if it was a dugout cameo.

Joey Jay was a 1953 bonus signee of the Braves. That meant two things. 1) The Braves had to keep him on the major league roster for awhile and 2) he didn't get into many games so he had lots of free time to count and recount his bonus money. He made the majors in 1958 after the Braves were finally able to let him get seasons on the farm. He pitched well, too, at least for awhile. After grabbing a starting slot in June he won 7 of 11 starts for the defending Champs and them was shelled in an August start. He pitched only once more that season, a September start against St Louis in which Irv Noren wacked a ball off Jay's hand and ended his season.

After two more middling seasons with the Braves Jay was traded to the Reds and suddenly was anchoring their staff along with Jim O'Toole and Bob Purkey. He won 20 or more in both 1961 and '62. He pitched in the '61 Series and beat the Yanks in the only game the Reds won. He made his only All Star squad in 1961 but didn't pitch in either game that year.

That meteoric rise ended pretty much as soon as 1962 ended and Jay only broke 10 wins once after that. He was done with the majors after a short stint back with the Braves late in 1966.

Joey Jay's story is actually a pretty interesting one and it's nicely written up on the SABR site. Jay apparently cut all ties with baseball in retirement. Did o.k. for himself in the oil business, though.

Why Joey Jay is pictured as a better on his '59 Topps is not known to me. Maybe he was talked into it by Warren Spahn and Lew Burdette, two guys known for their sense of humor. Jay was actually a pretty lousy hitter.

Friday, August 24, 2012

#500 Vic Wertz

Getting the obvious out of the way first... yes, this is the guy that hit the shot in the 1954 World Series that Willie Mays pulled in for one of the most famous baseball plays ever.

But Vic Wertz is much more than a trivia answer. He's a four time All Star and a four time Top 10 MVP vote getter. He's also a World War II vet, a 17 season American Leaguer and a guy with an 8 for 16 World Series batting mark. A Pennsylvania native Wertz spent three seasons in the minors after signing with the Detroit Tigers in the early 40s. He sandwiched in an Army stint and then made the Tigers major league squad in 1947.

As an outfielder Wertz put up some solid seasons with good power for the Tigers until he was traded to the Browns in 1953. He moved with the Browns to Baltimore for 1964 but a slow start prompted a trade to the Indians. He took over at first base for the Tribe and helped them reach the World Series against the Giants. In that Series Wertz batted .500 and hit a homer. Even though the Giants swept the Series Wertz must have been thanking his lucky stars for the trade that had brought him from a team on its way to a 100 loss season to the American League champs.

Wertz continued to star for the Indians until, as noted on the back of his card, he lost most of the 1958 season to a broken ankle. He was traded to the Red Sox where he had some hitting success. As his career wound down he was back in Detroit and finally a short stay with the Twins in 1963.

He finished with 266 homers and a .277 career average. Although he never led the league in an significant category he had many top five and top ten totals in power numbers throughout his career.

Vic, in his Indians gear (now disguised) gazes towards the upper deck at Yankee Stadium from the usual spot in front of the third base side dugout. If the shot was from about three or four years later I'd say he was looking up at me and my father.

Oh, yes... The Catch

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

#27 Andy Pafko

When this card came up in the rotation I knew I had to ask for a contribution from the #1 Andy Pafko collector, Matt F. who authors Heartbreaking Cards and has a super Pafko collection. So I turn this blog over to Matt:

As an Andy Pafko Super Collector, the 1959 Topps Andy Pafko card, #27, holds a special place in my collection.  Andy's '59 Topps would prove to be his last as an active player [although he would appear in the 1960 Topps's set as a Milwaukee Braves coach].  And he certainly went out with a great looking card compared to his relatively boring '54, '57, and '58 Topps cards.  I'm glad that he got the yellow border rather than the light blue which a number of the Braves had in the set.  In total, I have four copies of this card.   Some in very good condition...some with little added comments by a previous card owner. 
There is one aspect of this card that holds it back from obtaining an elite status in my Pafko collection and it is something tedious for most collectors.  The reason I am a Pafko collector is that he was born in Boyceville, WI which is just a little drive from my hometown of Eau Claire, WI.  On some Topps releases it lists birthplace as well as current home and it was always great to see Boyceville listed on a card.  In the '59 set Andy is just listed as living in Chicago and so it can never rate with those "Boyceville cards" unfortunately.   

Thanks, Matt! Much appreciated. I felt that this post just wouldn't be 'official' without your input.

Just a few background notes on Andy Pafko....
He played for the Chicago Cubs in the 1945 World Series. That was their last Series appearance.When Bobby Thomson hit the 'Shot Heard 'Round the World' the Dodger outfielder standing at the left field wall looking up helplessly was Andy Pafko. In addition to the '45 Series with the Cubs he played on three other Series teams, the 1952 Dodgers, the 1957 Braves (with whom he won a World Championship), and the 1958 Braves.

Here is a short but informative online page about Pafko.

And finally, Matt owns four (!) copies of the '59 Pafko. He sent along a couple of scans.

I like the one on which a young collector has helpfully added the word 'coach' to the front of the card. While it might take away from the grade that the card would get it adds a certain charm in that I can picture a 12 year old in 1960 'updating' his collection with a notation on Andy Pafko's new role.

Monday, August 20, 2012

#59 Irv Noren

It's pretty easy to overlook Irv Noren but he had a nice little run in the early fifties on some very good Yankee clubs. He'd gotten to New York via a 1952 trade with the Washington Senators. Talk about going from the outhouse to the penthouse.

In New York he played both in the outfield and at first. He was part of a platoon system used by Casey Stengel and got enough at bats and played well enough to make the 1954 All Star team. In that game he spelled Ted Williams in left for the ninth inning in an AL 11-9 win. Another perk of being a Yankee of course is getting a taste of the post-season. Noren played in three Series', all against the Dodgers and won rings in '52 and '52. He went 3 for 10 in that 1952 Series.

Noren was originally a Dodger signee but had his progression up the chain blocked by the wealth of talent owned by Brooklyn. And he ended his time with the Yanks in 1957 with a time honored 1950s tradition, he hung up a call from George Weiss and bought a bus ticket to Kansas City.

Noren never approached the quality of his 1954 play and kicked around from the A's to the Cards, Cubs and finally the Dodgers, back where he had started. He retired after the 1960 season and went on to manage in the minors and coach in the bigs. He served as player manager for a couple of years and even did some pitching for Hawaii of the PCL in 1961 and 1962. He was on the staff of the A's when they had their Series run in the early 70s.

Interestingly Noren is the third player to appear here recently who also had a pro basketball career 'on the side.' Noren played with George Mikan for the NBL's Chicago Gears in 1946/47. They won that leagues (a forerunner of the NBA) title that season.

Pretty routine card here for Noren. Nothing stands out. Depending on when the shot was taken that #24 behind Noren could be Gene Freese, Chuck Harmon, Gene Green or Benny Valenzuela. They all wore that number during 1957/58 for St. Louis. I'm not sure why I even bothered to look that up.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

#133 Bob Lillis The Sporting News Rookie Star

Bob Lillis might have been a "Rookie Star" in 1959 according to the Sporting News but he was no fresh faced kid. Lillis had been drafted by the Dodgers in 1951 and prior to that he'd been a multi-sport athlete at USC (where, if you are to believe the cartoon, the chicks really dug him). Lillis spent most of the decade in the Bums' minor league chain and serving in the military. That'll happen when you have Pee Wee Reese ahead of you in the organisation's food chain.

When he finally had a shot at starting in 1958 he got hurt and the job went to Maury Wills. Lillis was soon traded to St. Louis and then was drafted by the expansion Colt 45s. He was that club's MVP in their first season hitting .249. Lillis remained the team's infield anchor until the young duo of Joe Morgan and Sonny Jackson claimed the middle infield for Houston. Lillis retired as a player after the '67 campaign.

He went on to fill a number of front office roles for the Astros and served as a coach and finally manager in the mid 80s. He was runner-up in the Manager of the Year vote in 1983. He later coached on the San Francisco staff for more than a decade.


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

#326 Marv Throneberry

My memories of Marv Throneberry are as an object of derision during and after his end-of-career run with the horrific expansion Mets. What Mario Mendoza was to the 70's, Throneberry was to the 60s, at least among the kids I hung with. And it really was an unfair assessment. I mean a .237 average with fifty some homers is a tidy little career nest-egg, no? He hit 16 in 1962 when the Mets played in the spacious (except for the foul lines) Polo Grounds.

Marv's reputation as a bad ballplayer, combined with his good-natured ability to laugh at himself, led to some Miller Lite commercials that put him in the spotlight more than he ever was in his playing days. 

A Yankee signee he made a one game appearance in 1955 but actually broke in with the '58 team after putting up some impressive power numbers in the minors. He was AA MVP in 1956 and hit over 80 homers in a two year span in Denver's thin air. But, like most Yankees who couldn't budge the regular out of the lineup (Hi, Moose!), he traveled the highway out to Kansas City for a bit beginning in 1960. From there it was on to Baltimore and finally a trade to the Mets early in the 1962 season. He finally had a regular gig and played better than you'd expect from a guy who became the butt of baseball humor, hitting .244 and collecting 49 RBIs. 

Marv's older brother Faye Throneberry played for the Nats and a couple of other clubs through the 50s. Faye has a card in this set as well. It's unknown if Marv lorded his .237 career average over Faye's .236 at family get-togethers. Or the fact that he had an at bat in the 1958 World Series. OK, so he whiffed against Lew Burdette in Game Two. That's one more AB than Faye ever got in a Series. And Marv had a World Series ring to flash around.

Here are a couple of post-career looks at Marv. Neither is very high quality but they are worth linking. First his Miller beer ad....

...and then a feature done about him on the CBS Sunday Morning show.
Pretty nice card, too. The red frame, classic Yankee duds and unusual pose against the blue sky and YS facade make this card stand out. Good for you. Marv. Who's laughing now?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

#365 Gus Bell

Louisville native Gus Bell broke into the majors with the Pirates in 1950. He showed a lot of promise with the Bucs his first two season but his numbers went south in 1952. The Pirates dealt him to the Reds after that season but they lived to regret giving up on the slugging outfielder.

For the next five years Bell, played at an All Star level, never hitting below .290 with 121 homers. He made four All Star teams and had three seasons of 100+ RBI. As the back of his '59 card states 1958 was an 'off' year for Gus Bell and true to Topps' prediction he rebounded nicely in '59. He hit .293 with a career high 115 RBIs.

Bells production slid from that point and the Reds let him be drafted by the expansion Mets for 1962. He played rightfield in the franchises' first game and got the teams' first hit, a 2nd inning Opening Day single. After a partial season for the Mets, Bell was traded to Milwaukee where he finished his career a couple of years later.

Bell died in 1995 but left behind a legacy. His son Buddy Bell had a long major league career including All Star selections and Gold Gloves. He also managed nine seasons for three clubs. Buddy Bell's sons David and Mike were major league infielders in the last decade.

Bell had one post-season shot. He pinch hit three times in the 1961 World series against the Yankees. It's also notable that he was one of the seven Reds to be elected as All Star starters by fans in 1957 as part of a ballot 'stuffing' campaign. Ford Frick, baseball's commissioner, removed most of them from the team but Bell was chosen to play by Walt Alston and he had a two run double.

A black framed Reds card. Always a treat, Especially one in  the kind of shape this one is in.

Here are a few other Gus Bell pics and cards including the absolutely terrific 1960 Gus Bell. How can you not love this card?

Gus Bell appeared along with fellow Reds sluggers Wally Post and Ted Kluszewski on a 1956 Sports Illustrated cover.

Here are the '76 and '85 Topps Father and Son with Gus and Buddy Bell:

Check out the smile on Buddy's face in this next one. Looks familiar, yes?

Friday, August 10, 2012

#555 Bill Mazeroski The Sporting News All Star

I guess Topps took hatless pics of just about everyone just on the off chance they might get traded. Maz got into the first of the two 1959 All Star games, singling in a run as a pinch hitter in the bottom of the 7th off Jim Bunning.

That was his second All Star squad. He was a seven time selection.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

#325 Ken Boyer

I would have bet that Ken Boyer had played in more than one World Series. But 1964 was his only post season appearance. Live and learn. He's the brother of Clete Boyer who we've seen here before.

Ken broke in with the Cardinals in 1955 after four season in their chain and a military stint of two years. Boyer held down the third base spot for 11 seasons in St. Louis (with a year of centerfield duty tossed in. He made seven All Star squads, won five Gold Gloves and was the NL MVP in the Cardinals' World Series winning season of 1964. He hit a crucial grand slam off Al Downing in Game Four of that year's Series, a 4-3 Cardinal victory.

Traded to the Mets for the '66 season Boyer had a couple of full time seasons in him before his production and playing time tailed off. He wound up his career with the White Sox and Dodgers. He retired in 1969.

Boyer is the second most prolific righthanded power hitter in Cards history. His home run total trails only Albert Pujols. 

There is a Ken Boyer  memorial/tribute page here.

The Cards were assigned nine of the pink framed cards found in the '59 set. Takes a real man to be on a pink card and look as self-assured as Ken Boyer does here. 

Monday, August 6, 2012

#160 Dick Groat

Looked at Gene Conley recently and here comes another two sport star, Dick Groat. He starred on the diamond and on the basketball court and has been quoted as saying that basketball was his better sport.

At Duke University Groat was a two time All American in basketball, named the Helms Foundation Player of the Year in 1952 and UPI Player of the Year in 1952, and earned his way into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame. Duke retired his uni number.

Groat played a year of professional hoops for the NBA's Fort Wayne Pistons but after a military service term he never went back to basketball. He did stick with baseball, however, and went on to a fine career with four NL teams, primarily the Pirates and Cardinals. He was NL MVP in 1960 as a part of that Pirate World Series team. And he won a second ring with the 1964 Cardinals and finished second in MVP votes that year.

He was a fine fielder as well, consistently ranked among stat leaders.  He made five All Star squads by the time he retired in 1967 as he finished his career with part time work with the Phils and Giants.

He owns a golf resort in Pa. and does color for Pitt Panther basketball. He's an interesting guy worth perusing further. Wikipedia is a good place to start.

 Pretty sweet card. I always like to see shots taken in the Polo Grounds. Check out the apartment towers visible through the stands.

You can see them here.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

#203 Ozzie Virgil

Lets get technical for a moment. Just the other day I mentioned the Felipe Alou "is credited with being the first Dominican player in the majors". I suppose that depends on how you define 'Dominican'. That's because Ozzie Virgil, also a Dominican, made his debut on September 23, 1956. Felipe Alou's first appearance in a major league game came on June 8, 1958

Ozzie Virgil was born in the Dominican Republic but his family emigrated to the U.S, when Ozzie was a teen. He attended DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx, N.Y. He also served in the Marine Corp. He was more "American-ized(?). Alou, on the other hand, came to the states specifically to play ball. So, flip a coin. 

It really doesn't matter. Both players blazed trails. Virgil broke the color barrier on the Tigers when he went to Detroit in 1958 following his year or so with the Giants. He was never a regular but could handle his glove well and was able to play part time in the bigs through 1969. The fact that he could (and did) play anywhere except the mound helped him land spots with the Pirates, A's, Orioles and (again) the Giants. 

He played for the Orioles for exactly one game in 1962, pinch hit in the bottom of the ninth for pinch hitter Marv Breeding and drew an intentional walk. He therefore has an OBP of 1.000 for my Birds. Good for Ozzie!

Following his playing days he served as a coach for various teams for nearly two decades. He had been a player/coach for the Phoenix Giants in 1968. He also managed in winter ball and held several front office and scouting jobs. His son, Ozzie Jr. caught in the majors in the 80s, primarily for the Phils and Braves.

ESPN has an article/interview online that deals with Ozzie Sr. on the anniversary of his MLB debut. It's worth a read. 

This is another one of those "posing in Yankee Stadium while standing in front of the visitor's dugout" shots that seem to predominate the 59 set. 

Here's Ozzie circa 1958

                                                                     Osvaldo Virgil

Here is my Portuguese grandfather circa 1957.

 What say you?

Thursday, August 2, 2012

#428 Buc Hill Aces

Ok, if Topps wants to call Ron Kline an 'Ace', who am I to argue? But when stacked up against the other three guys on this card his stats look sort of pale.

Kline was coming off a 13-16 record in 1958 for a Pirates club that finished 14 games over .500. He went 54-83 in six seasons with the Pirates. He hit his stride, though, with the Nats in the mid 60s as a reliever. He led the league with 29 saves in 1965.

Bob Friend won 22 games for the '58 Buccos and Vern Law chipped in 14. Elroy Face was coming off a season where he led the league in saves and was in the midst of one that saw him go 18-1 with 10 saves.

I look at these special multi-player cards and wonder why Topps didn't just use the same format as their regular 59s (have I whined about this before?). A stadium backdrop or scoreboard or just blue sky would have been so much nicer than the horribly cropped photo on a yellow circle. 

This is the third copy I have acquired of this card. The first one had scribbling on the front that didn't seem to sink in when I pulled it from a fifty cent bin at a card show. The second one was an emergency replacement that had very soft corners. This one is a keeper, Ron Kline or no Ron Kline.