Friday, November 30, 2012

#487 Hal Brown

I don't think I ever once heard of him referred to as anything other than Hal 'Skinny' Brown. At least that I recall. Even the always proper Red Barber called him that on the radio.

Anyway here he is posing in Yankee Stadium... what a unique concept. He actually found himself pitching in a Yankee uniform in two games late in the 1962 season. That was close to the end of the line for Brown who had begun his career as a Red Sox signee in 1946 following a two year service hitch. He pitched for the White Sox in 1951/52 and found his way back to the Red Sox in 1953. The transactions that got him to that point are a jumbled mess that I really didn't care to follow.

But it was after a 1955 trade to the Orioles that Brown's career took flight (pun intended). He held a spot in the Orioles rotation until that trade to the Yanks late in '62. Along the way he had been the grand old man as part of the Orioles 1960 'Baby Birds' rotation. At thirty five he was a decade and a half older than the four other starters.

He finished his career with a couple of rocky season in Houston in 1963 and 1963. The '63 campaign actually wasn't bad for Brown as his numbers were better that his 5-11 record might indicate. That's what happens when you pitch for lousy clubs. He was 85-92 with a 3.81 ERA for his career.

After his retirement he co-owned a heating and air conditioning firm in his native Greensboro N.C.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

#356 Bob Mabe

It's not often that I feel compelled to discus the picture on a player's card before I touch on his career. But Bob Made presents an exception. I mean come on, what the heck is that expression all about? I've never run a contest on one of my blogs but if I did I think a 'Caption this Card' contest would be fun and this Mabe card would kick things off.

Anyway Bob Made pitched (a bit) for three different clubs from 1958 through 1960. Originally a Cub signee he was acquired by the Cardinals and built an impressive record as he moved up the Cards organizational ladder. He won 21 games for the Dixie League champion Houston Buffs in 1956. After a season at AAA Omaha he pitched for the Cards early in '58, was sent down and recalled and given a spot in the Cards rotation in July. He made five starts with mixed results and spent the rest of the time in the bullpen.

He was traded to Cincy for 1959, split his season between the Redlegs and the minors and was again traded after that season, this time to the Orioles. Two brief and rocky appearances for the O's put an end to his days in the majors. He finished with a 7-11 record in 142 innings for his career.

An avid golfer, Mabe worked in management for K-Mart and Dan River Mills after retirement.

Monday, November 26, 2012

#161 Frank Baumann

High school hotshot Frank Baumann was a much sought after pitching prospect in 1951 coming out of St. Louis. The Red Sox outbid his hometown Browns and in 1952 Baumann began a long slow climb up the ladder and he never really established himself with Boston. He'd get a look nearly every season with the big club but never stuck until 1959 when he got 10 starts and 26 overall appearances.

He was traded to the White Sox for the 1960 season and his career bloomed with a 13-6 record and a 2.67 ERA which led the league. He got 20 starts that year and had 7 complete games and three shutouts. That was easily his best season and he went 10-13 in 1961 as his numbers slid downhill after that. He allowed the most earned runs in the league in 1962, double the number he allowed in '61 in nearly the same number of innings. He made a very brief stop with the Cubs in 1965 and called it a career. Baumann posted a 45–38 record with a 3.90 ERA and 13 saves in 244 games pitched in 11 seasons (or parts thereof).

Bob Lemke had a nice post about Baumann which you can read here. Full of background info you may find interesting.

This is one of those retouched pictures that show up in the 1959 set.  Hard to say where the original was taken.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

#122 Bennie Daniels The Sporting News Rookie Stars

Bennie Daniels gave two years to the military in between five years in the Pirates' chain after signing out of Compton, Ca. in 1951. He had been an outstanding three sport athlete there. Daniels had a couple of looks from the Pirates during the 1957 and 1958 seasons. In his 1957 major league debut he started for the Bucs in the last game ever played at Ebbets Field. He got a full time shot in 1959 and made 12 starts out of a total of 34 appearances and went 7-9. After a return to the minors for most of 1960 he was traded to the Washington Senators for 1961 where he pitched the last game in Griffith Stadium and started the first game ever played in D.C (later named RFK) Stadium.

In D.C. he had five up and down seasons. His best was his first when he won 12 games and lost 11. He was under .500 every year after that. He spent 1966 in the minors and then retired. He worked for various health and veterans affairs departments after his playing days.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

#389 Joe Nuxhall

Joe Nuxhall made his major league debut with the Reds on June 10th of 1944. At the age of 15! He became the youngest player in modern baseball history to appear in a game. He's been signed the year before by scouts who were looking at his father as a wartime player. Joe's Dad turned down an contract offer but the then 14 year old was signed instead.

In that debut game Nuxhall entered with his club behind 13-0 to the Cardinals in the ninth and was cuffed around pretty good before being taken out. But despite that it was a pretty remarkable event. Consider this quote from Nuxhall Bullpen page:
"Probably two weeks prior to that, I was pitching against seventh, eighth and ninth graders, kids 13 and 14 years old. All of a sudden, I look up and there's Stan Musial . . ." - Joe Nuxhall, about his first game as a 15-year-old major leaguer
Following that debut Nuxhall did what 15 year old major leaguers have always done... he went to high school. Nuxhall then spent about eight years in the minors and returned to the Reds in 1952. By 1954 he had established himself as a fixture in the rotation and he went 12-5. Over the six seasons he held a spot as a Reds starter he was 73-58. His best seasons came in '55-'56 when he was chosen for the All Star squads in the NL.

Nuxhall saw his numbers and innings go south in 1960 and he was traded to the A's for the 1961 season. After the A's released him he signed briefly with the Orioles and then the Angels appearing in 5 games for the Halos early in 1962. Released again the Reds took him back and in June of 1962 he began a second tern in Cincy and his career rebounded. He won 15 games in 1963 and 11 in 1965 before he retired after the '66 season. Ironically Nuxhall, who pitched in 15 seasons for the Reds was gone the only year, 1961, that they went to the World Series.

After retirement Nuxhall remained a fixture with the Reds as a broadcaster from 1967 through 2004, He was also their batting practice pitcher for more than 20 years. Nuxhall, a much beloved figure in Ohio (he was a Hamilton native) died in 2007.

Great stuff about Joe Nuxhall can be found all over the net. His NY Times obit is here. One from ESPN is here. But the best resourse is a page dedicated to him on the Reds MLB site. Lots of pics, tributes and info. Check it out.

The website for the Joe Nuxhall Miracle League fields is here. It's a complex that provides baseball/softball diamonds specially tailored for use by kids with disabilities.

Once again I'm struck by the greatness of these black framed Reds cards. The color combo just seems right. Looks like Nuxhall has his road uni on in this shot. I'm guessing the Polo Grounds is the site with some of the high rise apartment buildings that surrounded it in the background. But I wouldn't bet my life on it.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

#52 Coot Veal

If your name alone could get you into the Hall of Fame then Coot Veal would surely have been inducted years ago. His name has even inspired Dustin's very readable Tiger-centric card blog. The one time Auburn basketball star was signed by the Tigers in 1952 and spent several seasons slowly climbing up the organization's ladder, arriving in the big leagues late in July of 1958.

As the blurb of his card back alluded to, Orville Inman Veal took over the Tiger shortstop job and swung a hot bat for awhile. His debut was a two for three game and he kept his average above .300 into September before falling back to earth. He finished that year at .256 which was higher than in any of his full-time minor league seasons. It was his slick glove work that earned him a salary.

He never again held a starting job in the bigs other than during the 1961 season when he platooned with Bob  Johnson in Washington after being picked up in that season's expansion draft. He was sold to the Pirates after that season and traded to the Tigers midyear 1963. Most of his final three years in baseball, '62 thru '64 were spent in the minors. He finished with a .237 average in 247 games.

After he retired he worked for 34 years for an industrial supply firm as a salesman. He currently lives in his native Georgia. The Denver Post has a nice article about Veal and his days with the American Association champion Denver Bears.

On his red framed card we see Coot occupying the same spot dozens of other visiting players have occupied for the Topps photographer in Yankee Stadium. My copy is a little off center but pretty sharp. I seem to recall it as being one of the first cards I upgraded while pursuing this set.

The Denver Post article has a photo that claims to show Coot chatting with fans but it looks like he's with his family. Don't know for sure but it's a sweet pic either way.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

#527 Solly Hemus

Solly Hemus served a four year apprenticeship in the Cardinals chain in the 40s as he climbed through their talent-rich system. He took over the shortstop job in 1951 and held it for more than three seasons displaying a decent bat and the ability to score runs. His playing time waned as players like Ken Boyer emerged in the mid to late fifties and eventually he was dealt to the Phillies.

With the Phils he was primarily a second baseman and once again had a starting job in 1958. But he was released and signed on with the Cards for the 1959 season as a player-manager, a job description much more common back in the day than it is now.

Hemus managed for two and a half seasons but didn't appear as a player after 1959. He was replaced by Johnny Keane midway through the 1961 season. He later coached with the Mets and Indians and managed in the Mets system until he entered the oil business in Houston where he had played for three years in the Cards' chain.

A couple items of interest... pretty nice write up of Hemus' career can be found here and a 1954 Sports Illustrated article about the baseball cards of the day uses Hemus in the title.

And finally here is a closer look at the cartoon on the back of Hemus' card. As was pointed out in the case of the cartoon on Ron Kline's card by Deal, this one wouldn't fly today.

Friday, November 16, 2012

#289 Johnny Kucks

Johnny Kucks, a strong, tall New Jersey native joined the Yankees in 1955 following a year in their minor league system and two in the service. He showed promise in '55 going 8-7 and even getting a taste of World Series ball as he appeared twice in the Series loss to the Dodgers.

Then came 1956 and Kucks had his best season in the bigs. He started 31 games for the Yanks and went 18-8. He was an All Star and ended his work that year with a 9-0 shutout of the Dodgers in the decisive seventh game of the World Series. In doing so he became the last man to win a Series game at Ebbets Field. That win by Kucks came two days after Don Larson's perfect game win and the day after a terrific but overlooked pitching duel between Clem Labine and Bob Turley in Game 6 that was won by Brooklyn 1-0 in the 10th inning.

Kucks never could replicate that '56 magic. He was under .500 as a Yankee over the next two seasons and early in 1959 was dealt to the Athletics. After a couple of less than successful years in K.C. he was traded to the Orioles and then on to the Cardinals but he never was able to reach the majors with either club. He pitched in the minors through the '63 season before retiring.

Kucks worked as a motivational speaker after his baseball days and made numerous appearances at card shows and similar events. His career as a Yankee just barely preceded my many visits to Yankee Stadium. I remember him as a Yankee but I doubt I ever saw him pitch. So I guess I missed my chance to see him posed with the facade behind him as he gazed skyward, probably in thanks for the chance to wear those pinstripes.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

#265 Ron Kline

Ron Kline looks mighty happy for a pitcher who had lost 60+ games in the previous four seasons, was forced to wear a batting helmet every second he was on the mound and having to endure being in a pink framed card. He also appeared on the Buc's Hill Aces card in the 1959 set.

Kline began his seventeen big league year career with the Pirates in 1952 and then spent two years in the military. On his return he joined the Buc's starting staff and three times broke double digit wins. Unfortunately he also led the league in losses twice.

He was traded to the Cardinals for the 1960 season and as he traveled through damn near every organization in the majors he slowly transitioned away from being a starter. He had his best seasons with the Senators in the early 60s as a stopper. He led the A.L. in saves in 1965 with 29 and had 23 the next year. He also pitched for Angels, Tigers, Twins, Pirates (again), Giants, Red Sox and Braves before he retired following the 1970 season.

Kline's Bullpen page makes note of the fact that he is the only pitcher to defeat the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers, the New York and San Francisco Giants, the Yankees and Mets.

After retirement Kline served as mayor of his small Pittsburgh-area home town.

Monday, November 12, 2012

#529 George Bamberger

George Bamberger had over 200 minor league wins in a career that stretched from 1946 to 1963. Along the way he made a handful of major league appearances, seven games with the Giants in 1951/52 and three more in 1959 with the Orioles, the year this card was issued. Those games in 1959 were in April and as noted on the back of his card he was sent down in May. He never made it back to the big leagues as a player.

But he did spend a lot of time in big league dugouts. He started coaching in the minors in the early 60s even as his active playing career was winding down. He became the Orioles' minor league pitching instructor and the was named as pitching coach of the O's under Earl Weaver in 1968. He kept that job through some very glorious years for the Birds. The Orioles had four Cy Young winners and 18 twenty game winners during his time there.

In 1978 he left the Orioles and took the managerial job with the Milwaukee Brewers. That season he won the majors Manager of the Year award while guiding the Brewers to a 93-69 third place finish, He had another good year in '79 but suffered a heart attack in the spring of 1980 and resigned after that season.

He managed the Mets in 1982 and part of '83 and returned to Milwaukee as skipper in 1985/86. In each of those seasons his clubs were below .500. 'Bambi' died in 2004. Former Orioles and Mets GM Frank Cashen called him the best pitching coach he ever seen. From that NY Times obit:

''He was the best pitching coach I ever saw,'' Frank Cashen, the former general manager of the Orioles and the Mets, said in a telephone interview yesterday.
He recalled that Bamberger gave his pitchers plenty of work.
''He believed in a four-man rotation,'' Cashen said. ''His theory was, the arm was a muscle, and the more you used it, the better off you were, as long as you didn't abuse it.''
Cashen remembered that Orioles Manager Earl Weaver ''was very flamboyant and not afraid to take pitchers to task vocally,'' but that ''George was very quiet; he was their friend.''

I like this high number card for a number of reasons, not the least of which are appreciation for what he did as the Orioles pitching coach and the fact that the back is printed, as are all '59 high numbers, in black and red on cream colored cardboard. Plus it's in really nice shape. The palm tree gives away the fact that this was a spring training shot.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

#198 Jim Davenport

Jim Davenport made his major league debut with the Giants in 1958 after a three season minor league apprenticeship. He was the club's thirdbaseman through the 1963 season. That span included his best season, 1962, when he made his only All Star squad and won a Gold Glove for his nifty work in the field. He had his best batting average and hit his career home run high that same season. That year coincided with the Giants near miss in the World Series against the Yankees.

The 1964 arrival of Jim Ray Hart forced Davenport out of the lineup as the everyday 3B but he still got lots of work at short and second base. Davenport spent his entire career with San Francisco, retiring as a player after the 1970 season.

He has remaining in the game, mostly with the Giants organization, since then as a coach, scout, manager (1986 Giants) and front office executive. He is still with the Giants currently.

I can't really can't say why Davenport is shown hatless. It's possible that Topps had shot pics of him in a NY Giant uni prior to the team's move to the west coast and they did their usual 'take off that cap' dance. Or maybe he had been wearing a SF Giants cap but this shot was the one they liked best.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

#34 Pitchers Beware

Wow, really? Pink frame and a red background? This is one of the '59 set's ugliest cards. Al Kaline and Charlie Maxwell deserve better.

Kaline, of course, is a Hall of Famer. Great hitter and a fine right-fielder with a cannon for an arm. He finished his career 1 homer short of 400 and three points south of .300 as a career average. He signed with the Tigers in 1953 and never spent a day in the minors. But the best thing about Al Kaline? Easy, he's a Baltimore native!

The Charlie Maxwell card in the set has already been featured. He was a popular Tiger outfielder known for his Sunday hitting heroics.

Every time I scan one of these specials I have the same thought... Wouldn't it have been a better card if Topps had used the photo's background instead of filling in the circle with a solid color?

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

#278 Chuck Essegian

Six big league teams employed outfielder Chuck Essegian in six big league seasons. And in only one season, 1962 with the Indians, was he anything close to being a regular. But there is more to Essegian than that. He had a big moment in the sun during the 1959 World Series as a Dodger.

In that Series he pinch hit a pair of homers, the second of which came when he hit for Duke Snider. Essegian tells that story (and a lot more) in this L.A.Times article from 1995. He'd been with the Dodgers for only six weeks before that fateful Series. He had come over in a mid-season deal from the Cardinals and then was in the minors for a few months before being called up.

In a lot of the stuff I dug up on Essegian he seemed to have put baseball completely behind him once his career ended. But during his second career, as a lawyer in California, he seems to have mellowed. Again the L.A. Times relays a story about Essegian and a young fan with whom he reconnected many years later. Yet another L. A. Times article, this one from 2006, elaborates on Essegian's times with the Dodgers.

As a football player at Stanford before his baseball days Essegian played in the Rose Bowl and remains one of very few players to have appeared in that game and a World Series. Essegian's contemporary Jackie Jensen is another other as is Jackie Robinson.

As noted Essegian rarely had a full-time spot with any club but he certainly had a good year in 1962 when he knocked out 21 homers in just under 400 at bats. That was as close as he ever came to matching the power he flashed in his minor league career.

Nice portrait on Essegian on this card. The smile is in contrast to the reputation he had as a glum and dour personality. Obviously an airbrushed logo on his cap. Looks like Connie Mack Stadium behind him. He played in Philadelphia in 1958 and by blowing up the card I could barely make out pinstripes on Essegian's jersey.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

#459 Bill Tuttle

Bill Tuttle played centerfield (and some third base) for three AL teams through the 50s and into the early 60s. Signed by the Tigers he debuted in 1952 and earned a starting spot in center in 1954. His .259 lifetime average is pretty indicative of his hitting prowess although he did hit .300 in 1959 for the A's.

What kept Tuttle in the lineup for the Tigers, A's and Twins for more than a decade was his ability as a fielder. He led all AL outfielders in putouts and assists twice each. His record strictly among all AL centerfielders is even more impressive.

Google his cards and two things stand out... the guy never smiled... and he always had a wad of chewing tobacco in his mouth. Maybe you can't smile with a chaw in your mouth. But Tuttle paid a huge price for that tobacco habit. He developed mouth cancer and lost parts of his mouth, cheek and jaw. You can look up the pics if you want but trust me it's not attractive. He spent the last years of his life warning ballplayers and others about the dangers of smokeless tobacco. He, along with Joe Garagiola, volunteered with the National Spit Tobacco Education Program in trying to get players to at least avoid being seen with the stuff hoping to discourage it's use.

Tuttle died in 1998.

Friday, November 2, 2012

#254 Zeke Bella

Signed off the Connecticut sandlots by the Yankees in 1951 John 'Zeke' Bella took a three year 'detour on his way up the Yankee ladder with a military stint during the Korean War. He hit over three hundred in his four full minor league season and got a ten at-bat look with the Yankees in 1957. Bella relates the story of his September call-up on his BR Bullpen page:

"The day I got called up it was raining and the game with the Indians was postponed," said Bella. "So we made it up with a day-night doubleheader the next day. The first time I went out to right field, I looked up and said to myself, "This is something."
"Late in the second game Casey Stengel said, 'Hey you with the funny first name, go up and hit.' I faced Ray Narleski and struck out."

Another .330 season in the minors in 1958 earned him a trade to the Yankees' kissin' cousins in Kansas City. 1959 was Bella's last and best shot at the majors. He hit .207 in 43 games for the A's and after another year in the minors he was out of baseball after 1960. He was a mail carrier in his home state after his baseball days.

The Greenwich Time webpage has a nice story of Bella celebrating his 80th birthday in 2010. He poses with his '59 card in the photo gallery accompanying the story. The '59 is his only card by the way. He's got an airbrushed cap and his Yankee pinstripes.

Zeke hasn't changed much. He's got the same smile!

John "Zeke" Bella, former outfielder for the New York Yankees and Kansas City Athletics, stands in front of a replica of his baseball card. Bella celebrates his 80th birthday with friends and family at the St. Lawrence Club in Cos Cob, CT on Sunday August 22, 2010. Photo: Shelley Cryan / Shelley Cryan Freelance