Monday, December 30, 2013

#342 Ray Jablonski

Ray Jablonski was a member of the Cardinals when this card was issued and that fact is noted on the back. In fact Jablonski did a lot of traveling during his career, something that is usually attributed to his lack of defensive ability.

He signed with the Red Sox in 1947 after a military term and played two years in the low minors before he was drafted away by the Cardinals. He bashed his way up the Cardinals minor league ladder and debuted as their regular third baseman in 1953. He had a sterling year with the bat slugging 23 doubles, 5 triples, 21 homers with 112 RBIs to go with a .268 average. He finished third in the Rookie of the Year balloting behind Junior Gilliam and Harvey Haddix. He came back the next year to make the All Star team with an improved batting average (.296) and nearly matching or improving in other categories. During his stay in St. Louis he was known as part of the 'Polish Falcons' a heavy hitting trio of Cards of Polish-American heritage including Rip Repulski and Steve Bilko.

But his fielding deficiencies and the emergence of a young Ken Boyer prompted a trade that sent Jablonski to that Reds. He split time between AAA ball and the Reds in 1955 and had decent numbers in '56 but again found himself on the move. He was dealt to the Cubs after the '56 season. He made it known that he was thrilled to get a chance to play in his hometown of Chicago but he was dealt on to the New York Giants before the 1957 season could get underway. He hit .289 for the Giants but his numbers tailed off in '58 and he was traded to the Cardinals. That deal also sent Bill White to St. Louis so the fact that Jablonski only lasted until August before being waived is just a footnote.

The Athletics claimed him and he played in K.C. for parts of '59 and 1960 before finishing his career with some power hitting minor league seasons through 1964. In 1961 he hit the first homer for the newly formed Hawaii Islanders who were affiliated with the A's.

Ray Jablonski died at the age of 58 in 1985 in his native Chicago.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

#364 Danny McDevitt

Danny McDevitt is the first Dodger that I've posted for quite awhile. Looks like a spring training shot that's been 'painted' over. Probably a Vero Beach photo.

McDevitt signed with the New York Yankees late in 1951 out of St. Bonaventure College and reported for work that September to the Yanks' low minor league clubs. He got into 7 games and was whacked around pretty good on the rare occasion he got the ball over the plate. Apparently the Yanks decided that they had made a mistake and released him.

McDevitt signed with the Dodgers that off season and had a much better year in their system but he still had control issues as evidenced by his 171 walks allowed in 199 innings. Then it was off to the military for a couple of years. When he returned in 1955 he began a two and a half season stretch during which he continued to struggle with control. His work in 1957 was good enough however to earn him a promotion to Brooklyn and secure him a spot in the rotation alongside Don Drysdale, Johnny Podres and Don Newcombe. In his first start on June 17 he pitched a complete game against the Reds allowing two runs on seven hits and fanning 11. He went on to a 7-4 record with a couple of shutouts that year.

One of those shutouts came in the very last game ever played in Ebbets Field. McDevitt handcuffed the Pirates that day on five hits. A brief video of that final Ebbets Field out was on You Tube and I've posted it here:

McDevitt's recollections of the game are featured in his L.A. Times obit:
"It was just another game, as far as I knew," McDevitt told Times columnist Jerry Crowe in 2007. "All the older guys – Pee Wee [Reese] and Duke [Snider] and those guys – seemed to know the facts, but I didn't know.
"I couldn't believe that after working my butt off to get to Brooklyn that I would be going back to another minor league town, which is what L.A. was then."

A brutal start to the '58 season earned McDevitt a demotion to the minors and when he was recalled in August he wasn't much better. 1959 was McDevitt's 'bounce-back' season as he went 10-8 in 39 appearances including 22 starts. He earned four saves as well. The Dodgers and Braves tied atop the NL standings that year and McDevitt drew the first playoff game assignment. He was KO'd in the second inning but the Dodgers won the playoff series and went on to win the World Series. McDevitt didn't pitch against the White Sox.

He continued his up and down trend with a poor 1960 season. He was sold to his original team, the Yankees that winter and was traded to the Twins in June. He pitched for the A's in 1962 and was out of baseball as an active player later that year. He went on to work as an umpire in the minors and later sold real estate among other jobs.

A Google search turned up a book on Cuban Winter League baseball that featured a story of an incident between McDevitt and an umpire that had some serious consequences. I also found a neat picture of McDevitt in Ebbets Field.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

#363 Bobby Avila

Bobby Avila may not be the most obscure batting champ since WWII (I'd go with Bill Mueller who I've never heard of till now) but he's among them. And that's too bad because Avila had a pretty solid career in the 50s. Growing up in Mexico his well-to-do family wanted him to be a lawyer like his father but the teenage 'Beto' Avila played soccer and well as baseball.

He signed to play in the Mexican leagues and began there at age 19 in 1943. His play caught the attention of big league scouts but Avila turned down several offers before finally signing with the Cleveland Indians in 1948. He spent that season with the Indians' top farm club in Baltimore and then sat on the Indians bench for a good bit of 1949 as a bonus baby. In 1950 he got over 200 at bats and hit .299 as he moved into the Indians lineup at second base.

Beginning in 1951 he held down the teams' keystone spot for eight seasons. He made three AL All Star squads during that time, three times hit .300 or better and twice finished in the top ten in MVP voting. He was a good fielder and bunter and led or tied for the league lead in sacrifice hits twice. His best season was 1954 which not so coincidentally was the year the Indians went to the World Series. Avila won the batting crown that season with a .341 average despite playing for about half the year with a thumb broken in a baseline collision with Hank Bauer. He had career highs in homers and RBIs that year as well. According to unofficial numbers 13 of his 15 homers either tied the game for the Indians or gave them a win.

By 1958, as an 34 year old, his playing time and skills were slipping and he was traded to the Orioles for the '59 season. He played 20 games for the Birds before being waived and picked up by the Red Sox in May. In July he was waived again and this time he was claimed by the Braves where he finished out the year. He was active in the Mexican League in 1960, had a very good and probably very satisfying final season, and then retired.

Following his playing days Avila bought into a Mexican League club and went on to become the league president. He later got into politics and was elected mayor of his native Vera Cruz. He is a member of both the Mexican and Latin American Halls of Fame.

Avila died in 2004.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

#341 Tom Qualters

Tom Qualters had one of the best nicknames I've come across among the '59 set subjects. His Phillies teammates in 1953/54 called him 'Money Bags'. That came from the fact that Qualters, signed to a $40,000 'Bonus Baby' contract as a high school phenom, was a member of the Phils roster for both of those seasons and pitched a total of one third of an inning. Left him plenty of time to count his cash I suppose.

That old rule required players signed for more than $4,000 to remain in the majors on the signing club's roster for two years or risk losing them to waivers. Qualters was signed out of McKeesport, Pa. and made his debut on September 13 of that '53 season in a blowout loss to the Cardinals. He got an out but allowed six earned runs on 5 hits including a homer, a walk, a wild pitch and to ice the cake, he hit a guy. His ERA for the day/season was 162.00 which is not reflected on his '59 Topps card's stat line.

He was sent to the minors in 1955 and remained there for most of the next three seasons putting up pretty respectable numbers. He was recalled to the Phils in September of 1957 and was treated roughly in seven outings. After one game as a Phil in '58 he was sold to the White Sox. He pitched decently the rest of the way in the A.L. pitching in 26 games but was back in the minors in 1959 and he kicked around several organizations' system before retiring after 1962. His major league totals read 0 wins, 0 losses, 5.64 earned run average.

After baseball Qualters worked as an enforcement officer for the Pennsylvania Fishing and Game Department. His grandson Shawn Stiffler is head baseball coach at VCU. Another grandson, Ian Stiffler was drafted this season by the Braves and pitched in the Gulf Coast rookie league.

According to both Baseball Reference and Wikipedia Tom Qualters, shown on this card in Yankee Stadium, holds the distinction of being the only pitcher to appear on a Topps baseball card four times without ever recording a decision!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

#322 Harry Hanebrink

Harry Hanebrink played for a couple of NL teams as a utilityman in the 50s (he was a member of the Phils by the time this card was put in packs) and had less that 350 plate appearances but in checking him out I found two very different but equally interesting entries.

1) As detailed in this blog post Hanebrink, on August 6 of 1953, hit a bases loaded walk-off triple to propel the Braves to a 3-2 win over the Brooklyn Dodgers. That particular type of hit, a walk-off triple, didn't occur again in Braves' history for 60 years until Andrelton Simmons did it this past season against Colorado.

2) In 1951 Hanebrink and five of his siblings were sued by two other of their siblings over the settlement of their late mother's estate. I have no intention of reading through that entire brief but it seems that a couple of the kids were not happy that the will was changed and contested it on the grounds of their mother's mental state. The Missouri State Supreme Court appears to have come down on the side of the plaintiffs.

You just never know what will pop up in a Google search if you drill down far enough. Like this Toledo Blade newspaper feature on Hanebrink from 1955. It's worth checking out merely for the alliteration used in the headline.

As for Hanebrink, he was a longtime Braves minor league player having signed in 1948. Interestingly he was just 18 at the time but was already a Navy vet. He got that 51 game stretch in 1953 with the big club but didn't return until 1957 when he played in a handful of games and then he stuck with the team in 1958. He hit .270 as a part-timer that year and appeared in the World Series getting two pinch hit at bats.

In '59 he was traded to the Phils and got in 100 at bats in addition to some minor league work. The next year he was back in the minors where he finished his career in 1961.

My version of this card is the more common one which contains the 'traded' line. Here is a shot of the 'no traded line' version.

Friday, December 20, 2013

#311 Norm Zauchin

Big Norm Zauchin, the pride of Royal Oak, Michigan once had a dream of starring for his hometown Detroit Falcons of the brief lived Basketball Association of America. But when that league folded he set his sights on his 'other' sport, baseball, and the Detroit Tigers. In 1948 he was promised a contract by well known Tiger scout Wish Egan. But Zauchin ended up waiting fruitlessly for Egan to follow-up and decided to strike a deal with the Boston Red Sox instead.

He climbed steadily up though the Sox chain as a power hitting first baseman and got a taste of the majors in 1951 before spending two years in the military. He returned to baseball in '54 with another year of seasoning and made the Sox in 1955. He took over the first base job a few weeks into the season and went on to hit 27 homers and drive in 93 runs. He managed to bat only .239 and led the A.L. in strike outs but overall he was impressive enough to garner Rookie of the Year votes, finishing third behind winner Herb Score and his teammate Billy Klaus.

Like Klaus, he has credited another service returnee, the great Ted Williams, with showing him how to be more selective and become a better hitter. On May 27 of the 1955 season Zauchin had his best game as a major leaguer going 4 for 5 with three dingers and a double and driving in 10 runs in a 16-0 bashing of the Senators. Despite all that Zauchin lost ground career-wise in the next few seasons.

He averaged about 100 plate appearances the next two seasons, suffered some injuries and was traded to the Senators before the '58 season. He had a hot start with the Nats but when his bat cooled off and he missed time with an injury his commitment to the club was questioned my manager Cookie Lavagetto. By the following May, probably by the time this card was issued, he had been sold to the Orioles' organization and he was soon out of the game.

Following his baseball days Zauchin was a pro bowler for awhile and managed a bowling center in Birmingham which had become his home during his minor league days. He died in 1999. His SABR bio is, as always, a good place to find his full story. He is a member of the Birmingham Barons Hall of Fame alongside the likes of Willie Mays, Rollie Fingers, Reggie Jackson and Pie Traynor.

His card shows him in his Senators home duds in Griffith Stadium.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

#299 Billy Klaus

Billy Klaus didn't look like such an angry tough-guy hard ass on all of his baseball cards, just the hat-less ones. But I will grant you that on this one he appears to be a guy I'd avoid trifling with.Maybe he just hated being asked to remove his cap.

Klaus originally signed with the Cleveland Indians in 1946 at age 17 and spent a year at their class D affiliate before it was discovered that his signing was illegal (before his high school eligibility was up?) and the contract was voided. He then signed with the Cubs and spent three very productive minor league seasons moving up their ladder.

In 1950 he was drafted by the Dallas club in the Texas League and played for Charlie Grimm. When Grimm moved on to the Braves organization the next year he had them sign Klaus and over the next three seasons he played at their AAA level club getting quick looks at the big leagues on a couple of occasions.

The Braves traded Klaus to the Giants for the '54 season but it wasn't until he was traded again a year later, this time to the Red Sox, that he truly found a baseball home. He won the regular shortstop job in June and his addition to the lineup is one reason the Sox surged over the second half of the season. That's according to Ted Williams and a nice Sport Illustrated story summarizes the Boston turn-around that year.

Klaus finished behind Herb Score in the Rookie of the Year voting (and ahead of fellow Red Sox infielder Norm Zauchin whose card will be shown here next) by hitting .283 and driving in 60 runs. That's pretty impressive for a guy who wasn't even a regular for the first 2 months of the season. He also got some MVP votes that year.

Klaus remained the Sox' starter at short for two more seasons although his numbers steadily declined. His continued fielding issues and back problems he incurred in 1957 led to him finding himself out of a steady job in 1958. He mostly pinch hit in Boston that year and wasn't very good at it and the Sox shipped him to the Orioles that winter.

He played in over 100 games for the Birds in 1959 and briefly played well enough to relegate Brooks Robinson to the minors but was used sparingly in 1960, hit just over .200 and was drafted away by the expansion Senators. One year there, one year plus a bit in Philadelphia and then Klaus took his glove and bat to Japan for what remained of 1963. He wasn't happy with the experience and returned to his home in Florida, opened a paint store, watched his younger brother Bobby play baseball and eventually got back into uniform as a minor league manager.

He managed (and played a bit, too) for the Senators and A's organizations and retired to his paint company for good in 1970. Klaus died in 2007. His story is best told in his SABR bio.

Billy Klaus doesn't always look like a German tank commander (that my original opening line for this entry). And for proof take a look at some of his other cards including my other Billy Klaus, the 1960 Topps:

And his '58.

Monday, December 16, 2013

#256 Jerry Davie

I have two projects cooking in the back of my mind that concern this set. #1) I want to catalog the stadiums that are featured in the photos and 2) I'd like to count up the number of guys in the set that spent one year in the minors followed by two years in the service. There seem to be a ton of those. I suppose it fits the pattern created by the average age of major league ballplayers in 1959 putting them in prime draft age during the Korean Conflict.

But anyway, here is another, Jerry Davie who was signed by the hometown Tigers in 1952. He had an impressive first season in the low minors and then put in his military time. When he returned to baseball he had mixed results in the Tigers' chain, usually hovering around the .500 mark.

That changed in 1958 when he went 17-5 with a sterling ERA in AAA ball and earned a spot on the Tigers' staff for 1959. Davie pitched in eleven games getting five starts before being sent back to the minors in June. He had one good start in late May at home against Cleveland when he pitched a four hit complete game. He was shelled in his next two outings and was gone for good after just a few minor league games in 1960. But even with that short major league career Jerry Davie had one thing he could boast about, a .400 lifetime batting average. In those 11 games he had ten at bats and a couple of RBIs. In fact in that May 31 complete game win he had two hits, drove in a pair and scored on Harvey Kuenn's walk-off homer in the bottom of the ninth. How cool is that?

He was director of parks and recreation in Garden City, Michigan after he retired and also worked in sales. I found an interesting piece in the Victoria (Texas) Advocate newspaper that profiles Davie as he debuted with the club in 1960. It touts the help he was to bring to the local club but as it turned out he only pitched in four games. You'll note the major league story next to the Davie piece that mentions a Brooks Robinson homer in an Oriole win. Way to go, Brooksie!!

Even nicer is an interview Davie did for a book about winter ball in Latin America.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

#259 Jim Pisoni

Hometown boy Jim Pisoni made his big league debut with the St. Louis Browns by appearing in the final three games in the franchise's history as they prepped to move to Baltimore. He'd been in the Brownie's chain since he signed as an outfield prospect in 1949 sandwiching three fairly successful minor league seasons around a two year military stint.

He went 1 for 12 in those three '53 games (his one hit was the next-to-last homer in Browns' history) and found himself back in the minors from 1954 through mid-September of 1956 when the Orioles included him in a trade to the Kansas City Athletics. He got into 10 games with the A's and hit a pair of homers as he flashed the power that had marked his minor league days.

The following season Pisoni was a semi-regular in the Kansas City outfield before he was part of a (surprise!) trade package that sent him to the Yankees. After a season and a half as Yankee property (but never playing for the big club) he was drafted by the Braves for 1959 but after a handful of games in Milwaukee he was returned to the Yankees. This archived article on Google concerns the Braves hopes when they took him in the Rule 5 draft.

He got into nearly 40 games over the next two years for the Yanks but spent the bulk of his time in the minors. He played for the reds' AAA club in 1961 and then retired to become an electrical contractor. He passed away in 2007.

Two points of interest... the shot on his card was taken in Yankee Stadium and the "M' is airbrushed over his Athletics' logo and the card-back leaves off his 1958 minor league stat line despite the write-up mentioning his "solid performance".

Thursday, December 12, 2013

#269 Jack Meyer

Jack Meyer was a hard throwing right-hander who was originally pursued by the Yankees but decided to attend Wake Forest University instead. I couldn't find his name among a list of letter winners on their baseball site but those type of things are often incomplete. In any case in 1951 Meyer was signed by the Phils and put together some impressive seasons as a starter as he rose through their system.

The Phils put him on their big league roster in 1955 and used him out of the bullpen for the most part. He rewarded them with a league high 16 saves and finished second to Bill Virdon of the Cardinals in the Rookie of the Year balloting.

Meyer would never again approach those first year numbers. He picked up only five more saves over the rest of his career as the Phils made him into a middle reliever. He was 24-34 over the course of six seasons in Philadelphia before back problems forced him out of baseball at the age of 29 after one 1961 appearance.

He died at the age of 34 of a heart ailment in 1967. His son, also called 'Jack' was well know in the sport of surfing and related industries in the Northwest. He too died of heart problems. He was only 53 when he passed away in 2007.

Meyer follows Seth Morehead as the second consecutive Phillies pitcher to be shown here on the '59 Topps Blog in a Connie Mack Stadium photo. Looking closely at the two cards shows that they were almost undoubtedly photographed on the same day. The banner on the upper deck railing to the right of each of them is identical.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

#253 Seth Morehead

On the last day of the 1957 season lefty Seth Morehead became the answer to two trivia questions: "Who was the last pitcher to face the Brooklyn Dodgers?" and "Who was the last pitcher to face Roy Campanella?"

In that game on September 29th, Morehead's first career start and first win, he hurled a tidy four hitter as the Phils won, 2-1. Campy pinch hit for Dodger starter Roger Craig in the top of the eighth and flied to center. (Side note... Sandy Koufax pitched the bottom of the eighth to become the last man to throw a pitch in a Brooklyn uniform.)

Up until that point in his rookie season Morehead had pitched 33 times in relief with a loss and a save. He finished the year with an ERA of 3.68 which was down from well over 6 in mid-July. Prior to that season he had spent five seasons as a starter in the Phillies' system following his signing out of Shreveport, Louisiana in 1951.

Morehead made eleven starts for the Phillies in 1958 and was treated pretty roughly by NL hitters. His '59 numbers were trending the same way when the Phils moved him to the Cubs in May. His work that year for the Cubs produced the similar results but in 1960 he improved significantly. Although he was only 2-9 on the North Side appeared in 45 games and had his best WHIP and his ERA was below 4.00 for the first time since his rookie year.

Traded to the Braves on the eve of the 1961 season, Morehead picked up an early season relief win but he was ineffective otherwise and by late May he was in the minors. One last appearance came in September of that year and then he was back in the minors for two seasons before retiring.

After baseball Morehead completed his degree at Baylor University and was in the finance/insurance business for 36 years before he retired for good. In this book excerpt writer Willie Morris tells a good story of meeting him at a banquet many years after Morehead had fanned him four times in a Louisiana youth league championship game.

Pretty neat card with Morehead shown at Connie Mack Stadium inside a black frame.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

#246 J. W. Porter

J. W. Porter was signed by well known scout Bobby Mattick out of Oakland, California in 1950. One of his high school teammates was Frank Robinson. He was called the best schoolboy prospect in the country. This comes from the 1951 Sporting News Baseball Guide:
Another record was set by J.W. Porter, Oakland catcher, when he captured the national batting championship for the second successive year. The 17-year-old receiver, who hit .551 in ten tourney games the previous year, produced a .488 average in 1950 national tourney play to retain the Hillerich & Bradsby trophy which is awarded annually to the leading batter … Porter, who received a bonus in excess of $50,000 for signing with the Chicago White Sox organization in December, 1950, was named the No. 1 American Legion Junior player of the year.
Starting in the White Sox system Porter hit well in his first season and a half in the minors before the Sox included him in a trade to the St. Louis Brown in July of '52. He played with the Browns for the rest of that season not as a catcher but as a centerfielder. He was traded to Detroit and then spent two years in Military Service before he was ever able to play for the Tigers.

Porter played for part of the 1955 season for Detroit and then was used very sparingly in 1956 getting only 14 trips to the plate despite being on the roster all season. There was a new Tiger manager in '57 and Porter got more work but he still wasn't a starter.

Traded to the Indians in 1958 he stayed one season before being traded to the Senators and from there to the Cardinals in 1959. He caused a minor stir in Cleveland by using a first baseman's mitt to catch Hoyt Wilhelm. He never returned to the majors but spent seven years in the high minors for several organization as a C/OF. For his career Porter hit .228 with 8 home runs.

Following his active career he managed for several seasons in the Montreal Expos system. He was known as a character during his playing days and has upheld that reputation since. He does some writing for baseball blogs, a bit of which I found here. The video below (which may or may not work for you) shows him introducing Jim Kaat at a function at the Elliot Museum in Florida which had a fairly extensive baseball exhibit. In the video Porter claims to have caught 14 Hall of Fame pitchers.

Tom Owens' Baseball by the Letters blog has featured Porter and adds some career anecdotes.

Friday, December 6, 2013

#247 Don Ferrarese

Don Ferrarese won only 19 games for five different teams over the course of eight seasons. Those numbers don't knock you over but he certainly shouldn't be dismissed that easily. You see it's what Don Ferrarese has done with his life after baseball that makes him stand out. But back to the game...

... Ferrarese signed on with the Phils in 1948. He wound his way through independent ball in the PCL and was dealt to the White Sox and spent time in the service. He was traded to the Orioles and debuted briefly in 1955. He made the O's staff in '56 and then spent 1957 shuttled between the O's and AAA ball. His baseball journey took many twists and turns as he was traded several times and through 1962 he was rostered by the White Sox (again), the Phils (again) the Indians, Cards and finally the Colt 45s for whom he never played.

Through it all he appeared in 183 games including 50 starts. He had a record of 19-36 with 12 complete games, two shutouts and 5 saves. His best game came with the Orioles on May 12 of 1956 when he entered the ninth having held the Yankees hitless. He lost the no-no but won a 1-0 game on a two hitter.

He once tossed four straight shutouts with San Antonio in the Texas League and had a three double day as a hitter for the Indians in May, 1959.

When he retired he went to work running his parents deli business and then he went into the real estate business. He was very successful and established a charitable foundation that benefits, among other things, needy students in his area of California. He has raised and donated millions of dollars. His foundations' website can be seen here. A few interviews with Ferrarese are here and here. More about his foundation is found here and here.

Sometimes what you find when you look into what appears to be just another '59 card can be amazing.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

#226 Art Ceccarelli

Lefty Art Ceccarelli signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1948 and pitched for four seasons in their minor league system and squeezed in a couple of years of military service, too. He never made the Bums roster and was sold to the Yankees in 1954 before being drafted away by the A's later that year.

He made 16 starts among 31 appearances in his rookie season of '55 for Kansas City and went 4-7 with a high ERA. He spent the next season mostly in the minors but managed to lose one decision for KC. He was traded to the Orioles and went 0-5 in 1957, pitched well in the minors in 1958, was drafted by the Cubs and spent the first part of 1959 in their system.

Ceccarelli was brought up by the Cubs in July of that year and won his first four starts, three with complete games and one on a shut-out. Then hard times hit and he finished the year 5-5. He opened the 1960 season with the Cubs but was traded to the Yanks in May and ended his career in the minors after the 1963 season. He was 9-18 for his careen with an ERA of just over 5.

After baseball Ceccarelli returned to his native Connecticut and taught and coached high school for many years and coached baseball at Southern Connecticut State University. He passed away in July, 2012.

This card uses an airbrushed version of his 1958 Topps on which he is shown in an Orioles uni.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

#199 Leo Kiely

 Jersey Boy Leo Kiely had a 26-27 career mark with 29 saves over seven big league seasons, mostly in Boston. But those rather pedestrian numbers belie some interesting aspects of his baseball days. For example Kiely was the very first player with major league experience to play in the Japanese major leagues.

According to his interesting SABR bio he pitched in Japan on days off from his duties as an active serviceman in the employ of Uncle Sam. And his 100,000 yen salary was just slightly less than that of the Emperor.

Kiely was in the service despite the after effects of a near fatal accident he suffered as a 5-year-old when he was run over by a truck and fractured both knees among other serious injuries. As a result he had one shorter leg for which he wore special shoes and subsequently was classified as 3-C by his draft board and placed into military service in a non-combat role. SABR goes into detain about Kiely's rough-and-tumble early life.

Kiely's career began when he was drafted by Boston in 1948. He was playing ball in a CYO league as he had never attended high school. Hard to conceive of that happening today. He had impressive minor league numbers and debuted in Boston in mid-1951. He went 7-7 in 19 games, mostly starts. He went into the service after that and that's when he pitched Army ball as well as in the Japanese League.

Returning to the Sox he was given a spot starter's role in 1954 and he went 5-8. He pitched out of the Red Sox' bullpen for another year and a half before he went back to AAA through 1957, He won a PCL high 21 games that year.

That earned him a return to the bigs and he had two seasons in the Sox' bullpen and finished his career with the A's in 1960 following a pair of trades that sent him to the Indians and then Kansas City in the off season. He pitched well for the A's but a sore shoulder ended his season and eventually his career.

Returning to New Jersey Kiely worked several jobs and died from throat cancer in 1984 at the age of 54.

Friday, November 29, 2013

#239 Bob Trowbridge

After signing with the Boston Braves in 1950 Hudson, New York native Bob Trowbridge pitched very well for a season in the low minors and then spent three full years in the military. While serving Uncle Sam Trowbridge honed his pitching skills and won 60 games while losing only six for the Nellis Air Force Base team located near Las Vegas.

He returned to the pro ranks in 1954 and was a standout in the minors. He earned a trip to the majors for a good chunk of the 1956 season and went 3-2 in 19 games for the Braves. He sported a 2.66 ERA but his numbers indicate a tendency to walk guys.

In 1957 he started well at the AAA level and again was brought up. He made 16 starts in 32 appearances and had success. He tossed a pair of gems in September of that year including his only career shutout and a five hit one run effort late in the month.

He appeared in Game Three of the World Series against the Yankees that year, He pitched the seventh inning and had a pretty rough go of it as he allowed two hits and walked three and saw each of those runners score. Tony Kubek's homer was the big blow. Trowbridge did get Mickey Mantle to fly out to end the inning. I'd give up ten years of my life to say I faced Mickey Mantle in a World Series game. It might have been a rocky outing but he got a ring that season.

He was almost exclusively a reliever for the next two seasons and didn't have the success he'd had previously. Trowbridge found himself traded to Kansas City for 1960 where he had modest numbers and pitched some in the minors. He was back in the minors briefly in 1961 before he was done with the game.

He went on to work for the Department of Corrections near his upstate New York home until he passed away at the age of only 49 in 1980.

I wouldn't swear to it but that might be Connie Mack Stadium behind Trowbridge. I think I see just enough red to make that possible. There have been enough Phillies cards showing that park for me to know that the Topps photographers did make it that far across the Hudson (and Delaware) Rivers.

Or it could be the Polo Grounds.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

#230 Bill Fischer

Look up the term 'baseball lifer' and you are likely to see a picture of Dom Zimmer or, just maybe, Bill Fischer. He was just 17 when the Chicago White Sox inked him to a pro deal out of Wisconsin and the righthander debuted as a pro with a 14-3 record in 19 starts the low minors.

He moved up the Sox' chain, spent two years in the military, pitched in the independent PCL, was re-acquired by Chicago and finally debuted with the White Sox in 1956. He made three appearances that season before being returned to the minors and then he was back in the bigs in 1957.

Over the course of the next nine seasons he pitched for four different organizations, mostly out of the bullpen but he was a part of the Washington Senators' rotation in '59 and then into 1960 before he was traded to Detroit for the second time in his career. That appears to be a Tigers' uni he's wearing in this card's picture with a drawn-in 'W' on the cap.

His career mark over those nine seasons with the Senators/Twins, Athletics, White Sox and Tigers was 45-58 with two shutouts and 13 saves. In 1962 with Kansas City he set a major league record by pitching 84 1/3 consecutive innings without a walk, a record that still stands.

From 1965 through 1968 he pitched in the White Sox chain at the AAA level and had really good numbers each of those seasons but he never again appeared in a major league game. That doesn't mean he never wore a major league uniform however.

His Baseball Reference Bullpen page gives a good account of Fischer's coaching odyssey which followed his days on the mound:

After his playing days, Fischer was a minor league pitching coach for the Kansas City Royals from 1975 to 1978, a Cincinnati Reds coach from 1979 to 1983, a minor league coach for the Royals again in 1984, and a member of the Boston Red Sox staff from 1985 to 1991. He worked in the Atlanta Braves chain from 1992 to 1999 and then was Tampa Bay Devil Rays pitching coach in 2000 and 2001. He returned to Atlanta for the period from 2002 to 2006. He has worked in the Kansas City Royals organization since 2007, serving as their Minor League Pitching Coordinator in 2009 and more recently as a Senior Pitching Advisor.

Fischer was the pitching coach for Roger Clemens when the then Red Sox ace won three of his Cy Young awards. Only Leo Mazzone, Dave Duncan and George Bamberger have coached more Cy Young winners. A year ago, according to this page on the KC Royals' site, Fischer even stepped back into his active coaching role, even if only as a fill-in for a couple of games. So since 1948, with a couple of years away serving his country, Bill Fischer has been associated with baseball. That's a 65 year stretch. That's a 'baseball life'!.

Monday, November 25, 2013

#228 Don Gross

I'm not really sure what prompted Topps to pose pitcher Don Gross holding a bat in Seals Stadium much less use the shot on his 1959 card. It's not like he was a good hitting pitcher or a converted position player. Just a curiosity of the set I guess.

Anyway, the left-handed Gross signed with the Reds in 1950 after playing (though not lettering apparently) at Michigan State University. He worked his way up through the Reds' chain with some impressive numbers, spent 1953 in the military, and debuted in July of 1955 with Cincinnati.

He went 4-5 that first half season in 11 starts over 17 appearances. He split the '56 season between the Reds and AAA Havana and then was 7-9 in a spot starters role in 1958. He was traded to the Pirates after that season in a deal that brought Bob Purkey to the Reds. While Purkey went on to All Star status with the Reds Gross won only six more games as his career finished with him bouncing around the minors through 1963.

A near no-hitter against the Braves that turned into a tough luck 1-0 loss on May 28th of 1958 was his career highlight. Or maybe not. Gross was part of a wacky 9 run bottom of the ninth rally that the Giants put together on May 5, 1958 in Seals Stadium.

Cruising along with an 11-1 lead Vern Law looked to finish off the Giants with three more outs. Then this happened:

Leading off, Ray Jablonski singles, and so does Orlando Cepeda. Hank Sauer reaches on an error and the bases are loaded. Willie Kirkland flies out. Jim King hits a pinch double to score two. John Antonelli doubles in two more to make it 11-5. Bob Speake hits a pinch double, the third in a row by the Giants and it's now 11-6. Curt Raydon replaces Law and promptly walks Willie Mays who is then forced at second, the second out of the inning.

Ray Jablonski then hits a 3 run homer to draw the Giants to within two at 11-9. Ron Blackburn comes on to pitch and gives up a homer to Cepeda and it's suddenly a one run game! But were are not quite done. Sauer walks, representing the tying run and on to pitch comes our guy, Don Gross. He walks pinch hitter Bob Schmidt and Jim Finigan, hitting for King grounds to short where it's booted for an error. The bases are now loaded. Any of the 5,502 Giants fans who had stayed to the end on a runaway game must have thought the were about to witness one of the best comebacks in baseball history.

But Don Taussig, the fifth pinch hitter of the inning, pops out to second to end the fiasco and give Don Gross a save, his first of seven that season.

Bottom line on the Giants ninth inning:
9 runs, 7 hits including three consecutive doubles and back-to-back homers, 3 walks, 
5 pinch-hitters, a pinch-runner, 2 errors and 3 LOB.

The line score:
                1  2  3   4  5  6   7  8  9    R  H  E
                -  -  -   -  -  -   -  -  -    -  -  -
Pirates         0  2  0   0  0  1   5  0  3   11 14  3
Giants          1  0  0   0  0  0   0  0  9   10 12  1

And now that I think about it, given the the picture on this card was taken in '58 at Seals Stadium in San Francisco, might Gross have been trying to send some subliminal message by holding up a bat? Taunting the Giants on the day following that crazy game? I guess we'll never know.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

#171 Willard Schmidt

Willard Schmidt has a great card, doesn't he?. The back frame that contrasts and compliments those Reds' duds, Seals Stadium with the distinctive red railings and, maybe best of all, a terrific cartoon on the reverse. It became even greater as I researched his career as you will see. 

Schmidt was signed out of Hays, Kansas in 1949 by the Cardinals. He won 56 games in three seasons as he climbed through the Cards' well stocked farm system. He got brief looks in St. Louis in 1952 and '53 but was back in the minors for the following season and a half where he again was impressive. He won 30 games over that span and was recalled to the Majors by the Cards in July of '55, this time for good. 

He was primarily a starter for that '55 season and continued in that role in 1956. He posted impressive numbers, especially in his rookie campaign. That half year he went 7-6 with a 2.86 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP. He had some memorable games among his fifteen starts. His first start resulted in a four hit complete game win over the Giants in New York. Ten days later he nearly matched that with a five hit win over the Pirates at home.

On August 11th he took a no-hitter into the seventh against the Braves in Milwaukee. Johnny Logan singled to end the no hit bid but Schmidt breezed through the rest of the game for the shutout win. On September 4th he took a perfect game into the 7th before the Cubs got to him and tagged him for a loss. Finally, on September 21, in what turned out to be his final start of the season, he went 12 and a third against Cubs at home. He had allowed just seven hits and three runs going into the 13th but the Cubs rocked him and he took a 7-4 loss. Hard to envision that game given the changes that have taken place in baseball since then. Twelve and a third innings is probably two games work for many of the games starters these days. 

His 1956 numbers were not quite up to those of his rookie season and in '57 he was converted to a reliever. He went 10-3 but his hits per inning went way up and the Cards had younger prospects on the rise. After that year he was traded to the Reds in the deal that brought Curt Flood to St. Louis. In '58/'59 he won six games and then found himself back in the minors to close out his career. 

Before he was done though he was able to grab a bit of notoriety by becoming the first player in major league history to get hit by a pitch twice in the same inning by two different pitchers when Bob Rush and Lew Burdette of the Milwaukee Braves hit him in the third inning of a wild and crazy 11–10 Reds win on April 26th of 1959. From the box score it appears he took a shot off the bat of his old nemesis Johnny Logan that KO'd him. 

After his retirement he co-owned Schmidt-Tullius Dodge and Schmidt Bicycle and Lawnmower Center in the Norman, Oklahoma area and later retired from that to a small farm in Newcastle, Oklahoma. His 2007 obituary states he had been preceded in death by six brothers and three sisters and survived by two other sisters, that his family had been among the first German-Russian settlers in the Hays, Kansas area and that his first language was German. He also attended Fort Hays College for a year before turning to pro baseball.

In the process of researching Willard Schmidt I came across a blog written by his great nephew, James Schmidt. James, a chemist by trade, is a Civil War historian and author who specializes in the art/science of medicine during that remarkable time. As a Abe Lincoln-phile I immediately had my interest piqued and then I was really pleased to find that James lives right here in Houston and does lectures and discussions on his interests and books. In fact I missed one held by the Houston Public Library by just a week or so. Fascinating stuff. 

I had found a post on his blog centered on great-uncle Willard and I reached out to James and he was kind enough to respond and point me to another post and he filled in a bit of his family background. How great is that? I'm looking forward to meeting James Schmidt one of these days and hearing more about his great uncle and especially more about his field of interest, the Civil War. 

Oh, that cartoon on the back of Willard Schmidt's '59 Topps?  Behold this classic:

Thursday, November 21, 2013

#197 Ray Semproch

Cleveland native Ray Semproch signed with the Phillies in 1951 and won 17 games in the lower minors that season before he spent the next two years in the military. Returning to baseball in 1954 he worked his way to the majors with four more seasons of minor league ball. Interestingly his 1957 season at AAA was far better than any previous year he spent at a lower level. I came across a few pages in a book on Google that tells of a heroic pitching effort Semproch delivered in the International League championship series in 1956 for Miami.

He earned himself a job in the Phils' rotation in 1958 and he went 13-11. At one point he was 13-6 and his 11 wins at mid-season led the league. A look at his game logs for '58 show that he mixed some really nice starts with some real stinkers. That win total was second only to Robin Roberts on the Phillies' staff and is made even more special when you compare it to the teams' 69-85 season record.

Semproch never again approached the success he had as a rookie. He went 3-9 in 1959 and was then traded to the Tigers. He won three games in relief in Detroit in 1960 but was traded to the Dodgers in mid-season and was farmed out.

He was drafted by Washington in December of '60 thus becoming one of the first players acquired by the 'new' version of the Senators but was sold to the equally new Angels in April of '61. He pitched only twice for the Angels, spent most of the year in the minors, and then retired.

He worked in his brother's Italian restaurant after that. Semproch's first Topps card came in 1958. On it he is listed by his given name of 'Roman'.

His nickname was 'Baby". I have no idea why.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

#129 Frank Herrera The Sporting News Rookie Stars

Cuban born Francisco "Pancho" or "Frank" Herrera played in 300 games with the Phillies over three years between 1958 and 1961. Don't let that short career fool you. Herrera is one very interesting guy. When he debuted for the Phils at the age of 23 he had already been in organized ball for about 8 years. He began at 15 or so around Havana as a member of a group of youngsters called gitanillos, or little gypsies. These players worked with Cuban pro teams during practices but sat in the stands with the other fans during games. Occasionally they were called on to actually fill-in for a regular.

He was also boxing (until him mother saw him KO'd and made him quit) and an agricultural student around that time. But baseball called and he signed to play pro ball in Cuba in 1950. He was obtained by the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro American League in 1952. His contract was purchased by the Phillies and he began in their organization in 1955.

He played some in Philly in 1958 and hit .270 in 63 at bats but spent the '59 season in the International League with Buffalo and just tore the league up to earn MVP honors. He stepped into a regular role as the Phils' first baseman in 1960 and finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting. He put together a .281 average with 17 dingers and 71 RBI but he fell off in '61, went back to the minors and was dealt to the Pirates. He never again played in the majors although he hung on in the minors with several organization through 1969 and then played in Mexico and with an independent Florida State league club as late as 1974. At times he served as player/manager.

Along the way Herrera had played winter ball in Nicaragua, Venezuela, Panama, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico in addition to Cuba. He made his home in the US in Miami and was part of the Cuban culture there for many years. He worked for United Airlines and for a health service provider in South Florida as well as having several baseball-related interests such as batting instructor in Mexico and running a baseball camp with fellow Cuban Paul Casanova. 

The father of three daughters Frank Herrera died in 2005 in Miami. He is a member of the International League Hall of Fame. You can (and should!) check out his SABR bio here. More info on Herrera and his part in the integration of baseball (he was the Phils first black Latino player) can be found in this book on Google.

This card is one of three 'rookie' cards issued by Topps for Frank Herrera. One version of his 1958 card is prized because of the 'error' which is described as a misspelled name on the front. It seems to be a printing error. 

Here is the more common 'correct' version:

The 1959 Rookie Stars card is featured up top and he also had a 'rookie star' card in the 1960 set. That one is my favorite because I am a fan of that '60 Rookie subset.

Interestingly he had a 1961 All Star card but no regular card by Topps.