Saturday, September 29, 2012

#353 Robin Roberts

From 1950 through 1955 Robin Roberts was a truly dominant force in the National League. He won 138 games over that six year stretch, made the All Star game each season and finished in the top 7 of MVP balloting five times.

Not that he was slouch for the rest of his 19 year Hall of Fame career but on the mound during the first half of the decade he was damned impressive.

From his Baseball Reference Bullpen page:

  • 7-time NL All-Star (1950-1956)
  • 4-time NL Wins Leader (1952-1955)
  • 5-time NL Innings Pitched Leader (1951-1955)
  • 2-time NL Strikeouts Leader (1953 & 1954)
  • 5-time NL Complete Games Leader (1952-1956)
  • NL Shutouts Leader (1950)
  • 15 Wins Seasons: 10 (1949-1956, 1958 & 1959)
  • 20 Wins Seasons: 6 (1950-1955)
  • 25 Wins Seasons: 1 (1952)
  • 200 Innings Pitched Seasons: 14 (1949-1960, 1963 & 1964)
  • 300 Innings Pitched Seasons: 6 (1950-1955)
  • Baseball Hall of Fame: Class of 1976

After signing with the Phillies in 1948 Roberts pitched a very strong half season in Class B Wilmington before a call-up in June of that year. He had decent results but he didn't quite show any sign of what was to come. A 15-15 year in 1949 led to a 20 win season in 1950 as the 'Whiz Kids' made it to the World Series where they fell in four to the Yankees. Roberts pitched a 10 inning Game Two and lost a 2-1 decision to a Joe DiMaggio homer.

Roberts never made it back to the postseason but he did make it to Cooperstown after nearly two decades in baseball. After 14 years with the Phils Roberts had stints in Baltimore (four years), Houston and Chicago with the Cubs. He finished with 286 wins while pitching for some pretty sad teams.

After his final major league game in 1966 Roberts pitched for the Reading Phillies in 1967. He later coached for nearly a decade at the University of South Florida.

Little known Robin Roberts facts: He was sold to the Yankees for 1962 and was on their roster but didn't appear in a game before being released and signed by the Orioles in late May. He's the only pitcher to have beaten the Braves in Boston, Milwaukee and Atlanta. He had a traveling basketball troupe during the baseball off-seasons and frequently faced the Globetrotters. His hometown of Springfield, Illinois has a stadium named for him.

Roberts poses here in a shot taken at Connie Mack Stadium. Nice break from the Yankee Stadium shots that dominate this set. 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

#176 Preston Ward

Handy but light hitting Preston Ward was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1944 and climbed through their loaded minor league system before getting a shot with them in 1948. He hit a respectable .260 in 62 games but was back in the minors the following year and then sold to the Cubs.

He was a semi-regular with Chicago in 1950 but his baseball career was put on hold with a military stint in '51/'52. When he returned the Cubs dealt him to the Pirates and, after a few years as a platoon 1B/outfielder he moved on to the Indians in '56 and Athletics in 1958. His numbers in 1958 reflect his best season as he hit .281 with 10 homers in 400+ at bats splitting tine between the Indians and A's. 1959 was his last shot in the majors.

Ward was another of the many ballplayers in the '59 set that left a basketball career in the dust to sign a major league contract. Ward was a captain and All-Conference selection at Missouri State in the late 40s.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

#117 John Blanchard The Sporting News Rookie Stars

The Yankees signed 3-sport schoolboy star Johnny Blanchard out of Minneapolis in 1951 and he proceeded to take a rather long road to the majors. He moved up through the Yankee chain, took a couple of years off to serve in Korea, got a one game trial in 1955 and finally landed with the Bronx for good in 1959.

He had been a third baseman (and basketball star, good enough to get a pro offer) in high school but the Yanks converted him into a catcher and he spent his career alternating between that and playing the outfield with some first base work thrown in.

Blanchard was never an every day player but he did play an important role for New York as a platoon option and a strong bat off the bench. He appeared in five World Series with the Yanks and won a couple of rings. He batted .345 in his Series at bats and belted two homers in the 1961 Series. That year was also his best in the majors as he hit .305 with 21 homers in only 243 at bats,

He was behind the plate when Bill Mazeroski homered to end the 1960 Series and talks about his role and that fateful game in this SABR article. In Blanchard's final season, 1965, he played for the Yanks, Athletics and Braves.

Blanchard somehow makes this rookie card look less wonky than most in this subset. I always think of him as 'Big' Johnny Blanchard because that's how I recall the Yankee broadcasters referring to him. But he wasn't a particularly big guy.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

#250 Billy O'Dell

Been awhile since I've posted an Oriole. Billy O'Dell is one of those guys I always associate with the O's but actually had a bigger impact with another team or teams. He was a 1954 bonus signee of the Orioles and never pitched in the minors.

A couple of brief turns with the Orioles bracketed a military service stretch and in 1957 he gained a semi-regular job on the Oriole staff pitching in 35 games. He was a front liner with the club the next two seasons and made the All Star Game both years. But manager Paul Richards had O'Dell shuffling between a starting slot and the bullpen and O'Dell wanted a job doing one or the other, not both.

He was dealt to the Giants after the 1959 season and pitched for five seasons on the West Coast, mostly successfully. He won 19 games for the pennant winning Giants in 1962. That year he got his only post-season work with a start and two relief appearances in the World Series. He started and lost Game One of the Series, picked up a save in Game Four and nearly was the winner in the final game as he closed out the game and watched Willie McCovey's line drive rocket into Bobby Richardson's glove. Maybe a foot either way and Willie Mays scores on a single and O'Dell has a win and a ring. O'Dell discusses the Series, that 7th game and much more in an interview on the Baseball Savvy blog.

After a couple more seasons of slowly declining numbers with the Giants he was traded to the Braves and then finished with the Pirates before retiring after the 1967 season.

This card is (all together now) seriously mis-cut but to me it is a classic '59 Topps with the wind-up pose and the unmistakable Yankee Stadium facade in the background.

Friday, September 21, 2012

#57 Al Cicotte

Al Cicotte (he pronounced it 'SEA-kott' was the great-nephew of Eddie Cicotte (he pronounced it cy-KOTTY) of Chicago Black Sox fame (shame?). Was Al trying to distance himself from his great-uncle? If so he wasn't shy about speaking about their relationship in the March 1953 interview that ran in the Sporting News. Al Cicotte was a Yankee farmhand at the time, fresh off four years of combining minor league baseball and a couple of service stints.

Cicotte continued to bang around the Yankee chain before finally getting a shot in 1957 when he went 2-2 in 20 games for the Bombers. He was sold to the Senators and pitched for them and the Tigers in 1958. Dealt to the Indians Cicotte spent the 1959 season in Cleveland, 1960 in the Indians' minor league chain (he piitched an 11 inning no-hitter that year for Toronto), 1961 with the Cardinals and 1962 with the Colt 45s and the Houston minor league club in Oklahoma City.

He retired with a 10-13 record in just over 100 games. He died twenty years later in 1982. I was going to make a snarky comment about the cartoon on the back of this card but I read the '53 interview and saw that Al's uncle Eddie was the one who urged him to constantly work on his control.

Al Cicotte was known as 'Bozo'. I haven't figured out why.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

#305 Curt Raydon

Curt Raydon had one year in the majors, 1958. It was a very promising season that saw him go 8-4 on 20 starts and post a tidy 3.62 ERA in 31 total appearances. But he never made it back to the bigs. Plagued by hand and shoulder injuries he had some good numbers in the Pirates system but never was able to make the club in the spring. Topps thought enough of him to put in on a 1960 card despite him spending '59 in the minors.

He became a police officer after he retired in 1962.

I believe (but I wouldn't swear to it) that this pic was taken in Seals Stadium in San Francisco. Color pics of the place are hard to find but I've seen some and I recall the red railings. Note the politically incorrect cartoon on the back and the note in the write up that mentions a two hit shutout he threw in '58.

Monday, September 17, 2012

#30 Nellie Fox

In October of 1949 Nellie Fox was traded by the Philadelphia A's to the Chicago White Sox for catcher Joe Tipton. I'm sure Tipton was a nice enough guy so I won't disparage his career. After all, the closest I've ever come to the big leagues was buying a ticket for a box seat. But when you look at his numbers and then look at Nellie Fox' numbers you realize that someone deserved to lose a job when they OK'd that deal.

Mull over these Nellie Fox facts from Baseball Reference's Bullpen page:

  • 12-time AL All-Star (1951-1961 & 1963)
  • AL MVP (1959)
  • 3-time Gold Glove Winner (1957/ML, 1959/AL & 1960/AL)
  • 5-time AL At Bats Leader (1952, 1955, 1956, 1959 & 1960)
  • 4-time AL Hits Leader (1952, 1954, 1957 & 1958)
  • 8-times AL Singles Leader (1952 & 1954-1960)
  • AL Triples Leader (1960)
  • 100 Runs Scored Seasons: 4 (1954-1957)
  • 200 Hits Seasons: 1 (1954)

His 1959 World Series with the Sox was his only taste of the post season but he made the most of it going 9 for 24. Pretty darn impressive credentials. So impressive that I can't help but wonder why his Hall of Fame admission took so long to come to pass. Fox defined 'hustle' and scrappiness' before Pete Rose came along to turn those attributes into a cottage industry. He was tough to strike out. Whitey Ford claimed he only fanned Fox once and that was because of an ump's bad call. Fox finished his career with a season and a bit more in Houston as a member of the Colt 45s/Astros.

Fox coached for the Astros and Rangers after his playing days. Supposedly his tobacco chewing habit caused a problem in the Astrodome. Judge Roy Hofheinz, owner of the Astros and builder of the Dome didn't like tobacco juice stains on his 'rug' and sent down word to Fox in the dugout one day that he should quit spitting on the turf.

Fox certainly looks thoughtful on his '59 Topps card. It's a different pose for sure and makes this card stand out. Nellie Fox died of cancer at the age of 47 in 1975.

I found this video of the 1959 White Sox highlights while googling Fox. Pretty neat.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

#358 Ralph Terry

Oklahoma native Ralph Terry holds a unique place in baseball lore. He gave up Bill Mazeroski's dramatic 1960 Series winning homer. But two years later he won the deciding game of the '62 Series over the Giants. He pitched a four hit 1-0 shutout getting the final out on a rocket off the bat of Willie McCovey (like Maz, a Hall of Famer to be). McCovey's shot came with the winning run in scoring position but was flagged down by Bobby Richardson and my Yankee fan friends were very happy at school the next day.

Terry pitched in five different Series' for the Yanks in his career and went 2-3 in nine games. His career mark is better than that. He went 107-99 in 12 seasons. He was originally a Yankee prospect and came up to the big leagues with them in 1956 for a brief look. In June of '57 he took the well traveled road to Kansas City and stayed with the A's until May of 1959 when the Yanks decided they needed him back and back to the Bronx he came.

From 1960 thru 1954 he went 66-38 in pinstripes including a 23 win season in '62 which had followed his 16-3 1961 season.

The Yanks jettisoned him in '65 and he went on the win 11 games for the Indians. That was his last hurrah and Terry finished with another brief whirl in KC and some time with the Mets. By then Terry, an outstanding golfer, heard the call of the fairways and his career changed from the mound to the tee box. He qualified for PGA events in the early 1980s and was a regular on the PGA's Champions Tour.

Nice corners and a bright colorful card. It's a favorite of mine. I saw a lot of Terry at Yankee Stadium back in the day. But couldn't Topps have had a better cartoon blurb than one touting Terry as a football fan?

Thursday, September 13, 2012

#409 Gus Zernial

I've never really appreciated Gus Zernial until now. His prime came in the first half of the 50s. And it really was a nice run for Zernial. Signed in 1942 by Cleveland out of Beaumont High School (about an hour east of my home) 'Ozark Ike' had a partial year of minor league ball before spending three years serving his country during WWII. Returning to his career in 1946 he was sold to the White Sox in '47 and debuted with them in 1949. 

An injury that year limited his playing time but he established himself as a slugger in 1950, hitting 29 homers and .280. A three way deal early in the 1951 season sent Zernial to the A's and he continued his slugging ways as he led the league in home runs (33), runs batted in (129), extra base hits (68), and 17 assists an an outfielder. His powerful arm made Gus more than just a threat at the plate. He had a reputation as a guy who could charge a ball in left and throw quickly and accurately. I was surprised to find that Zernial, in that '51 season, became the first player since Jimmie Foxx in 1933 to lead the league in both homers and RBI. He was the first player to win a home run and RBI crowns after being traded in that season.

Zernial continued belting homers for the A's, both in Philly and Kansas City through the 1957 season. Zernial's playing time (and batting average) declined in 1956/57 and he was dealt to the Tigers for the 1958 season and played his final two seasons in Detroit before retiring to the Fresno area.
After retirement Zernial was a local broadcaster for Fresno State football, basketball and baseball games before getting involved in the city's efforts to build a new stadium and bring in the Grizzlies. He became a member of the Philadelphia Athletics' All-Century Team in 2002. This article from the Fresno Bee contains a lot of info from Gus' post career years and a wonderful picture of him behind a radio mike.
Some Zernial based Hollywood trivia: In 1952 with the Athletics, according to Joe DiMaggio biographer Ben Cramer, Zernial took publicity photos with Marilyn Monroe at the request of a movie studio. The retired DiMaggio wondered how a guy like Zernial could get his photo taken with somebody like Monroe. Zernial told DiMaggio how to get in touch with her, a blind date was arranged and the rest is baseball/romance history.
When I scanned this card (love the happy look on Gus' face) I noticed that someone, a kid maybe, had practiced his Gus Zernial signature on the back with a pen. Have a look:

Looks very close, yes? And I had to dig up a copy of his 1952 card on eBay. Posted below. Here is the story via Wikipedia:
Zernial is featured in one of the most unusual baseball cards of all time. His 1952 Topps card shows Zernial holding a bat that has six baseballs attached to it. This photo recognized that he had tied an American League record by hitting six home runs in three consecutive games from May 13-16, 1951. The day after the picture was taken, he hit his seventh home run in a fourth consecutive games.

I found the original shot online:

Finally here is an Ozark Ike comic cover. The Ike character was the inspiration for Gus' nickname given to him by a sportswriter. Watch that hand there big fella!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

#17 Danny's All Stars

I hate to say it but this card has all the earmarks of being a 'filler' card in the Topps '59 set.

 Frank Thomas (aka "The Original One") was an All Star in 1958. But he was a Red Leg by the time this card was issued in the 1959 first series of Topps cards.

Big Klu was a four time All Star in the Fifties but those were as a Red Leg and he was in decline as a batter in 1959. He had been beset by injuries by the time he arrived in Pittsburgh.

I've said it before, but why would Topps crop these special cards like this and place the subjects on a solid background? The outer frame around a complete picture would have been much more interesting.

This is not a very good copy, either. A little stained, a little soft. And it'll stay that way. No upgrades for Danny's All Stars.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

#267 John Romonosky

An Illinois native, the right-handed John Romonosky signed with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1949, pitched in thier chain for a couple of seasons and then spent two years in the service during the Korean Conflict. Returning to baseball he had a brief look at St. Louis when he made two starts in 1953.

After a couple of years back in the he emerged with the Senators and pitched briefly in 1958 and 1959 while bouncing back and forth between the Nats and their AA club. He went 3-4 in 30 games for the Sentors piling up just over 100 career innings.

Romonowski finished his career pitching in the minors in 1960 and 1961 in the Yankee, Twins and A's organizations. Following his retirement from baseball, he worked as a Franklin County, Illinois deputy sheriff for 34 years. He died in 2011.

Not a bad card actually. Nice corners and no defects. It's an upgrade over my first copy. Usual 'pose in front of the visitors' dugout at Yankee Stadium' card.

Friday, September 7, 2012

#343 Billy Hoeft

I tend to think of Billy Hoeft as an Oriole since his years with the Orioles' reliever and spot starter came right in the sweet spot of my early and ardent years as a Bird fan. But Hoeft's best days came as a starter with the Tigers in the mid-fifties.

He won 20 games with Detroit in 1956 but his best season was 1955 when he went 16-7 with a 2.99 ERA and  he had seven shutouts. He made his only All Star squad that year as well. After a couple of .500 or so years the Tigers dealt him to the Red Sox in 1959 and he was moved to the Orioles later that same season.

Hoeft had a resurgence of sorts with the O's as his ERA for them in parts of four seasons was lower than he put up for any other club. From the Orioles Hoeft went on to pitch for the Giants, Braves, Cubs and Giants again.

Billy Hoeft trivia from Wikipedia:
On September 7, 1953, Hoeft struck out three batters on nine pitches in the seventh inning of a 6–2 win over the White Sox and became the fourth American League pitcher and the ninth pitcher in Major League history to accomplish the nine-strike/three-strikeout half-inning.

On June 24, 1955, Hoeft surrendered the first home run in the career of Harmon Killebrew.
He had a reputation of being a really good signer thru the mail in retirement. I have a signed '62 Hoeft. I wish it was a '61. Same picture, better set. 
Standard pose with the card picture taken in Yankee Stadium. Not much to say about it except there's some paper loss on the back but the front is just fine.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

#120 Chuck Coles The Sporting News Rookie Stars

Chuck Coles' major league career was over by the time this card was issued in 1959. A Pennsylvania schoolboy star, Coles was signee of the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1950 and when he made his pro debut with Valdosta that year he won the Gulf-Florida League batting title and was the All Star Game MVP. Coles was dealt to the Reds organization in 1958. After his long career in the minors during which he put up some good hitting numbers Coles made his major league debut late in September of '58.

He played in five games driving in a pair of runs. He never made it back to the bigs. He played in the minors in the Reds' and Twins' chains before hanging up his spikes after the 1963 season.

Coles went back to his hometown of Jefferson, Pa. and worked as a millwright. He died in 1996 at the age of 64.

This is one of the most mis-cut cards I have among my '59s. I've seen a lot of mis-cut Rookie Star cards from this set.

Monday, September 3, 2012

#467 Baseball Thrills... Aaron Clubs World Series Homer

Indeed Hank Aaron clubbed a homer in the 1957 World Series. Three of them in fact. But this card doesn't actually depict any of those. If fact this isn't a shot of a homer, or even of the '57 Series.

I've learned that a little detective work can reveal Topps' propensity to, well, if not actually try to deceive anyone, but 'fudge' the details of the pics used in these Baseball Thrills cards to fit the story. And sure enough that's the case here. I googled 'hank aaron 1957 world series' images, 'aaron homer 1957' and a bunch of variations of those. Figured I'd find the original picture that was colorized for this card. No dice.

On a whim, since the Braves and Yanks had met again in the '58 Series, I changed the date to 1958 and bingo, there it was as the first hit. Clicking through revealed the truth. Sure enough this was a picture from Game Five of the 1958 Series. But even Corbis can't get the details exactly straight. Or maybe Baseball Reference is wrong because they list Hank Aaron's at bats in that game as a flyball to center, a flyball to left and two strikeouts. From the pic it's a little hard to say which at bat this really is. Hank seems to be looking towards left while Yogi looks to center. Doesn't matter. I'm happy to have figured it out. Here is the original shot for those reluctant to follow links.

Nice card no matter the origin of the original photo. Also of note if that Topps painted out the Yankee logo that was placed on the Yankee Stadium turf just to the left of home plate.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

#231 Ellis Burton

Switch-hitting outfielder Ellis Burton played for three different clubs but was a player in that many more organizations. He was originally signed by the Pirates in 1955 but was claimed by the Cards before he could make it to Pittsburgh. He showed plenty of promise with the bat in the minors and got a look with St. Louis in 1958. As the cardback notes he hit two homers among seven hits in his September call-up.

After spending 1959 in the minors he made the Cards in 1960 but was farmed out in June after not hitting much. He was dealt to Toronto of the International League and then obtained by Milwaukee, then drafted by Houston and was purchased by the Indians on the eve of the '63 season. That led to his next and best major league stint as he made the Indians opening day roster but was sold to the Cubs late in May.

He played a combined 114 games with the two clubs in '63 and hit 13 homers with a .227 batting average. He bounced back and forth between the Cubs and AAA for a couple of years as his numbers slid off the cliff. He was out of baseball after 1965.

This is one of the lesser conditioned cards in my set. I'll get around to upgrading it someday but in the meanwhile it's in acceptable shape for my binder.