Sunday, September 29, 2013

#541 Bob Thurman

If you are like me and know little to nothing about Bob Thurman you are missing out on one of the more interesting players included in this set. Coming out of the military in 1945 Thurman spent four seasons with the Homestead Grays and the Kansas City Monarchs, pitching and playing outfield alongside the future Hall of Famers Satchel Paige, Cool Papa Bell, Buck Leonard, Buck O'Neil and Josh Gibson. He attracted the eye of Yankee scouts who signed him in 1949 thinking he was 26 years old. Thurman is quoted in his SABR bio in regards to his true age:

"Many Baseball clubs like to put players ages back a few years. Mine was put back several times, so much so, that I always use the baseball age. Even when I joined the pension, I didn't think of [using] my correct age. So my real [birth date] is May 14, 1917."

Meanwhile Thurman had played in the Winter League in Puerto Rico and became a star on the island. He was sold by the Yankees to Cubs and he eventually landed with San Francisco of the PCL. In 1953 he signed with a start-up league in Puerto Rico and was banned from organized ball in the US. You can see the 'suspended' notation on the back of his Topps card.

After two years in MLB 'limbo' he was reinstated and joined the Cincinnati Reds for the 1955 season. He displayed power as a part time outfielder and pinch hitter in four years with the Reds but had only a few pinch hitting appearances in 1959 before returning to the minors. He retired after the 1961 season and began a new career as a scout working for the Twins, Reds, Royals and the Major League Scouting Bureau. He died in 1998 of Alzheimer's at the age of 81.

My humble little recap just can't do justice to the career of this special player. You'll need to read his SABR bio to appreciate him. Thurman is a member of the Puerto Rico Baseball Hall of Fame.

Friday, September 27, 2013

#544 Lee Tate

This is infielder Lee Tate's one and only baseball card, at least among major company issues. It's a Topps 'high number' which I haven't posted a lot of lately. Of course it's easy to spot given the red and black printing on cream colored stock that Topps used as they transitioned to football card production in 1959.

Beginning with a stint with independant clubs in 1951, Tate was a long time minor leaguer. He played 15 seasons riding the buses from Utah to Richmond and everywhere in between. After seven seasons in the minors during which he hit fairly well for a middle infielder the Cardinals gave him a couple of tastes of the majors. He got into 51 games with nearly a hundred plate appearances in 1958 and 1959. But he failed to catch on and spent nearly all of the rest of his career in AAA. He played his last games in Austin in the Texas League in 1965.

He hit .273 in 1660 minor league games and spent many of his winters toiling in the Cuban Leagues. No telling how many at bats he actually had outside of the bigs.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

#148 Mike McCormick

As alluded to in the card's cartoon, Mike McCormick was one of the 'bonus baby' signees back when he was penned to a big contract by the New York Giants in 1956. McCormick was fresh out of high school and only 17 years old when he joined the club for his mandated two year roster stay. In those two years he had a total of 27 appearances including 7 starts. In '56 he didn't get into a game until September 3rd. 

He took a spot in the Giants' rotation beginning in 1958 and had double digit wins for four straight seasons. He led the NL in ERA in 1960 and was a member of the NL All Star teams in 1960 and 1961. He developed shoulder problems the next season and was traded to the Orioles for whom he pitched for two seasons. 

Traded again, this time to the Senators proved a tonic for McCormick and his numbers improved. In December of 1966 the Nats traded him back to the Giants for Cap Peterson and Bob Priddy. Turned out to be a steal for San Francisco. McCormick had the best season of his career in 1967 winning 22 games, posting a 2.85 ERA and winning the Cy Young. 

I found two interesting facts about McCormick's '67 season. He was the first Cy Young winner for the Giants' franchise and the only one prior to Tim Lincecum. Hard to believe that Juan Marichal never took home that hardware. Burden of pitching in the pitching-rich 1960s I guess. And McCormick was one of 17 pitchers to win the award without having made their league's All Star team in that season. This article lists those pitchers. It's from 2010 but I have checked the subsequent seasons.

McCormick had a couple of solid seasons following his 1967 zenith and then his numbers fell off. He finished his career with short stints with the Yanks and Royals before pitching in the minors to close out his active career. 

Two final tidbits:
On June 121959 he threw a rain-shortened "no-hitter" versus the Phillies. He allowed a hit in the 6th, which was eliminated from the official records as rain cancelled the game and the official game became a five inning affair.

The red railings in the stands behind McCormick on this card signify Seals Stadium.

Monday, September 23, 2013

#134 Jim McDaniel

Because he never played in the majors I had trouble finding info on Jim McDaniel until I found him listed as 'Jimmie' on the Baseball Reference 'Bullpen' site. Oddly he's not linked there from his BR minor league page. But be that as it may, McDaniel was a big swinging outfielder for numerous organizations during the 1950s and early '60s. Hit about 120 homers in the four seasons prior to this card being issued and that's likely what prompted Topps to include him in the Rookie Star subset as a 26 year old.
Topps states on the back of the card that McDaniel 'has a fine chance to break into the Pirates outfielder as a regular [in 1959]. With Bob Skinner, Bill Virdon and Roberto Clemente already holding down spots I'm not sure where he would have fit in.
McDaniel played for 12 different clubs over 14 minor league seasons. He broke into professional ball with the Reno Silver Sox and soon thereafter the Class C Riverside Rubes. Really. He did a bit of pitching along the way which I suspect wasn't unusual in those days, particularly when it came to independent minor league teams.
This is his only Topps card.
I kept digging for stuff on Jimmie McDaniel and found a tidbit on the SABR page which is basically an excerpt from the 1952 California League press guide:

James (Jimmie) Ray McDaniel is single and lives in Coachella, California per the 1952 California League Gold Book (Fourth Edition). He graduated from Coachella Valley High School in 1950 and was a member of the baseball, basketball, football, swimming and track teams. He is a surveyor during the off-season. His hobby is cars. His previous professional experience has been as a pitcher primarily.Information is from the 1952 California League Gold Book (Fourth Edition)

Saturday, September 21, 2013

#281 Walt Craddock

West Virginia native Walt Craddock signed with the Philadelphia A's in 1954 out of Syracuse University. The lefty pitched in the Athletics' farm system for the better part of two years with better numbers than his results indicated.

That got him a taste of the bigs late in 1955... and got lit up. He repeated that in 1956, his late season cup of coffee resulted in him getting lit up. He had a great season in AAA in 1957, leading the International League with 18 wins and then spent the whole 1958 season in Kansas City, for the most part getting lit up.

That was his last season in the big leagues. By the time this card was issued he'd been dealt off to Reds. He spent two seasons in the Reds system, pitched very well, but then retiring. He finished with an 0-7 big league mark.

But he did get to be photographed in Yankee Stadium and had this one Topps card.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

#283 Russ Heman

Victimized with a terribly airbrushed hat, righthander Russ Heman was still a couple of seasons away from making his major league debut when this card was issued. Heman had banged around in several organizations from 1952 through 1960 before he won a job in the Indians' bullpen in 1961. He made six appearances early that season before being traded to the Angels in June. He made six appearances in ten days as an Angel before being traded to the minor league Toronto club and he never returned to the bigs.

In those twelve games he pitched 20 innings, allowed 12 hits and had a nice 2.70 ERA. He had no decisions but did pick up a save.

His card features one of those brutally honest cartoons that states he is troubled by wildness at times. Great cartoon, too.

This is Heman's only Topps card but I found a couple of pics that I thought I'd share. After all he had a 1.100 WHIP which is slightly better than Sandy Koufax's 1.106. I also found a story about a no-hitter he pitched for San Diego in 1959.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

#540 Willy Miranda

Before the 'Mendoza Line' there might well have been the 'Miranda Line'. Willy Miranda was the prototypical 'good field/no hit' 50s shortstop. In 9 seasons he hit .221 with six homers. That's really not terrible but there are a couple of great quotes that show how Miranda's hitting prowess was viewed. 

These are from his Baltimore Sun obit:
A newspaper columnist wrote that Mr. Miranda was the only "Major Leaguer to hit three ways -- righty, lefty and seldom."Manager Richards fumed that Mr. Miranda couldn't hit a ball with any consistency until one afternoon in Cleveland, when he got three straight hits. When he was replaced by a pinch hitter, Mr. Miranda inquired as to why."You already have three hits and it defies logic to think you're going to get four," said Mr. Richards.
But there are also quotes, found in that same obit, that give a glimpse of how Miranda's glove was viewed:
He was called "Ringling Brothers" by Orioles' Manager Paul Richards, who said he had "the hands of a pickpocket."Gus Triandos, a catcher during those years, described Mr. Miranda as "flashy a phenomenon" whose arm was almost "abnormal for such a small guy.""Had he been able to hit, he would have been a greater player than he was," Mr. Triandos said yesterday from his home in San Jose, Calif."He was a wizard with a glove -- and you need a strong glove like his when you play the most demanding position on the field," said Orioles Manager Davey Johnson, who said Mr. Miranda's death was a "personal tough loss.""He was the best defensive shortstop I've ever seen and I've seen plenty," said recently retired Los Angeles Dodgers Manager Tommy Lasorda, who played ball with him in Cuba. "This guy could do it all."
In 1948 Miranda was signed out his native Cuba by the Washington Senators.  He later defected to the U.S. by hiding in the cockpit of a Pan Am airliner with the help of the crew. He helped Cuban nationals leave as part of the Mariel 'boatlift' in 1980. He received honors from the city of Baltimore in the mid 70s for rescuing a man from a burning house. Seems like he could do everything...except hit.

In his career he played for the Senators, White Sox, Browns/Orioles and Yankees. His two years as a regular came with the Orioles in 1955/56. He played two more seasons as a platoon player in Charm City. During the 12 months from October 1951 through October 1952 he was involved in four separate transactions that saw him bounce from the nats to the White Sox to the Browns and back again a few times. He ended his career with a couple of minor league seasons. He later managed in the Mexican League.

As is usually the case SABR is the go-to site for details on this most interesting player.

When I pulled this card for scanning I noticed that the Orioles logo appeared 'different'. 

Here is the logo from Gene Woodling's card. The red stitches are black on Miranda's card and the Bird's face is only partially colored. it appears this was consistent over all the '59 Miranda cards I've seen.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

#232 Eddie Kasko

Jersey Boy Eddie Kasko enjoyed a three part career in the majors. Signed by the Browns in 1949 he spent tow years in the service and was traded twice before he debuted with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1957. He stepped into a starting role that year and spent time at short, third and second as he did most each season of his career.

He hit a respectable.273 his rookie year but when his average slipped by 50 some points in '58 he was traded to the Reds. He played four solid seasons in Cincy, hit well, fielded well and made the 1961 All Star squad. He hit .311 in the 1961 World Series against that Yankees.

He was dealt to Houston for the 1964 season as they looked to solidify their defense and played for the Colt .45s/Astros through '65. His last year as an active player was in 1966 with the Red Sox. 

After his playing was over he went on to manage in the the Red Sox chain for several years before he succeeded Dick Williams as Boston's manager in 1970. His clubs finished third twice and then second twice but never could break through for a pennant.

Kasko remained with the Red Sox as a scout and  as the team's director of scouting and vice president, baseball development. He retired in 1994 and was elected to the Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame in 2010.

I believe the Kasko is the first player to appear in this set who has an active Facebook page and Twitter account. Make of that what you will.

Friday, September 13, 2013

#384 Dave Sisler

Son of Hall of Famer George Sisler, righty pitcher Dave Sisler attended Princeton University and was signed by the Red Sox in 1953. He spent a productive year with the Sox' Class A club and then spent two years in the military before returning to a big league career.

Sisler's three seasons with Boston are remarkable in their consistency. He was within one game of .500 each season and had an ERA in the high 4's each season. The only variation comes from the fact that he was evolving from a spot starter/reliever into a regular rotation option. A trade to the Tigers in May of 1959 put an end to Sisler's days as a starter and he finished out his career in the bullpen for Detroit, the expansion 1961 Senators (he had eleven saves) and the Reds in 1962.

In addition to his father, Dave Sisler had two other family members involved in the game. His brother Dick Sisler spent eight seasons as a 1B/OF in the NL from 1946 through 1953 (he was an All Star in 1950) and brother George Sisler Jr. was a minor league player who went on to become president of the International League and the very successful GM of the Columbus Clippers.

Dave went on to receive a postgraduate education at Washington U of St. Louis and became vice chairman of A.G. Edwards (now Wells Fargo). And come to think of it he looks more like a finance executive than a ball player. He died in 2011.

The write-up on the back of this card is remarkable in it's lacklusterlessness*.  

*=I made that word up.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

#377 Johnny Antonelli

Johnny Antonelli was signed by the Milwaukee Braves as a 'Bonus baby' in 1948 after he wowed scouts with a no hitter in a Rochester, N.Y. semi-pro all star game before 8000 people. As such the Braves had to keep him on the major league roster through 1950. He was used sparingly and then spent two years in the service. Antonelli claims the military was where he learned to pitch. He is one of a handful of players who never played a day in the minors.
That's apparently true as when he returned in 1953 he went 12-12 with a 3.18 ERA for the Braves. The Braves gave up on him and traded the lefty to the Giants in a deal that paid huge dividends on Coogan's Bluff.
Antonelli turned into the Giants' ace and he went 21-7 with a league leading ERA as the club went to the World Series. In that Series Antonelli earned his ring as he pitched and won Game Two and returned in Game Four with a save out of the bullpen in the Series finale.
For the next five seasons, through the Giants' move to San Francisco, Antonelli pitched about as well as anyone in the league. He had made five NL All Star squads when, in 1960, everything went south. He pitched poorly, squabbled with management and the press, complained about Candlestick Park, was boo'd at home and lost his starting spot.
In 1961 he found himself in Cleveland and then Milwaukee (ironically both teams that had played key parts in his career). He was out of the game after that season. But Antonelli had invested his baseball salaries wisely and made millions with Firestone franchise stores.
Antonelli wrote his memoirs recently and the book was released last year. It has some nice reviews on Amazon. SABR has an informative bio, of course.

Monday, September 9, 2013

#233 Paul Foytack

Righty pitcher Paul Foytack had a respectable career as he won in double digits six times in the 50s for the Tigers. (The fact that he also lost in double digits six times is irreverent to this discussion.) He signed with the Tigers in 1949 but wildness kept him out of the majors until he found his control and nabbed a spot on the 1956  Detroit staff.

He teamed with Frank Lary, Billy Hoeft, Jum Bunning and, at times Don Mossi,  to give the Tigers a better than average starting rotation. But the thing about Foytack is that his most memorable moments came not through his successes, but his propensity to give up homers. Consider:

  • He allowed the first of Roger Maris' 61 homers in his record breaking 1961 season. 
  • He was the first pitcher in history to give up four consecutive homers. It occurred on July 13, 1963 against the Senators when Foytack was winding down his career as a member of the Angels. Notable is that one of the guys who hit a homer in that streak was pitcher Pedro Ramos. 
  • He gave up a homer to Mickey Mantle that was 'measured' at 634 feet and is considered the longest homer ever measured to the actual landing point. Mickey Mantle's webpage tells the story:

Detroit, 9/10/60 - Mantle unloaded an incredible home run over the right-field roof  [of Tiger Stadium]. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, it's the longest home run ever measure after the fact.through a light tower (which it may have grazed) and out of the park. The pitcher was Paul Foytack. Years later researcher Paul Susman, Ph.D. found eyewitnesses who confirmed exactly where the ball landed on the fly. Dr. Susman then measured the distance, which turned out to be an astonishing 643 feet! This was almost certainly the longest home run Mickey hit in a regular season game that could actually be measured to the spot it landed, and probably the longest homer anyone ever hit in a regular season game that could be measured to the actual landing point. This 643-foot home run is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest homer ever "measured trigonometrically."

And I also found this on Mantle's site.
Detroit, 6/18/56 - The Mick walloped a tremendous homer over the right-field roof between the light standard and the end of the upper deck. The ball went completely out of the park and landed on the adjacent Trumbull Avenue. It was all the more impressive because it was hit into a stiff wind. Again, the pitcher was Paul Foytack. (This was the first out-of-the-park homer Mantle hit off Foytack.) This home run brought about Tigers' manager Bucky Harris' famous remark, "That would bring tears to the eyes of a rocking chair." Just two days later Mickey would hit two homers into the upper deck bleachers in centerfield at Briggs Stadium - something no player had ever done even once. Both of those home runs landed high above the 400 foot sign in the left-centerfield bleachers. 

In a 2007 story in the New York Times Foytack remarked on his career, allowing dingers, a memorable autograph he signed and his thoughts on Barry Bonds.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

#164 Johnny Groth

A three sport standout at the famed Chicago Latin School, Johnny Groth joined the Navy when he graduated. Playing alongside such notables as Bob Feller Groth's reputation spread beyond the military ball-fields and he was signed by the Tigers in 1946.
After a brief look late that year Groth spend most of the next two season's in the minors before being named a starting outfielder in 1949. Labeled as the 'next Joe DiMaggio' it would have been near impossible for Groth to live up to that hype. He hit .293 in his rookie year and continued to hit well if not spectacularly for the Tigers before being traded to the Browns for 1953. After a year in St. Louis the Browns (actually they were becoming the Orioles) traded him to the White Sox and he went on to play for the Senators, A's and then the Tigers again. he had a nice career but obviously never did become the star he was projected to be.
He managed in the minors after his playing days ended in 1960. On his card he poses in front of the visitors' dugout at Yankee Stadium. Assuming the shot was taken in 1958 it appears to be Herb Moford warming up, maybe for a start. That would put the day at August 24th as it was Moford's only start that season in New York.
Groth has an interesting backstory and as always his SABR page is recommended reading.
Posted below is his 1954 Bowman with him airbrushed into the Orioles uni that he never really wore.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

#79 Harry Chiti

Harry Chiti debuted with the Chicago Cubs at the age of 17 in 1950 after being signed earlier that year. He bounced back and forth between the Cubs and the minors for three seasons before spending two years in the service during the Korean War.

He was the Cubs' starting catcher when he returned in 1955 but he played as a platoon catcher in '56. Then he was dealt to the Yanks and he spent the '57 year in the minors. Traded again, this time to the Athletics, Chiti played in over a hundred games for the A's in 1958 but his playing time decreased through the later part of the decade and he was traded three more times within the American League, to the Tigers, the Orioles (for whom he never played) and then the Indians.

It's a long told story that in 1962 the Indians traded Chiti to the New York Mets for a player to be named later. That player turned out to be Chiti himself and thus he was one of the few players ever traded for himself. The truth is that he was originally sold to the Mets and then returned to the Indians for cash. So it was not exactly being traded for himself but it's close enough to make a good story.

After a couple more seasons in the minors Chiti retired. He had a .238 career average. He led the NL is a couple of defensive categories during his career including CS percentage. His son Dom was a minor leaguer in the Braves and Orioles' chains and coached and scouted for the Texas Rangers.

As a bonus here is a really nice 1954 Bowman of Chiti. Note that he is described as a 'husky youngster' and that the write-up mentions that he would be in the service that season. Nice Polo Grounds background.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

#174 Jim Pendleton

Jim Pendleton is cooler than you thought. Really, he is. Want proof?

1) He played every position on the field except pitcher and catcher in the majors.
2) He was the last WWII vet to play in the bigs when he played left field for the fledgling Houston Colt 45s on Opening Day, 1962.
3) He was a near-full time outfielder for the Braves in 1953 but got squeezed out by a hot rookie in 1954... Hank Aaron.
4) His nickname was 'Guv'nor'.
5) He was originally signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers and moved from the outfield to shortstop because of a logjam of OF talent, think Duke Snider.

Most of that and more comes from a wonderful tribute to Jim Pendleton written as an obit in 1996 by the terrific Houston writer and author, Mickey Herskowitz. It's a quick read and highly recommended. And it tells the tale of Jim Pendleton better than I can.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

#182 Milt Graff

Yes, this is another nifty, excellent conditioned '59. Off-center as all get out but that is more the rule than the exception I think, at least among my '59s.

Second baseman Milt Graff was signed by the Pirates out of Penn State in 1949 and he proceeded to toil in the Pirates' and Yankees' chains, when he wasn't toiling for Uncle Sam, until he was dealt to the (surprise!) Athletics in February of 1957. He'd shown some real hitting potential in the minors with several seasons of .300+ averages.

But with the A's in '57, after opening the season as a regular, he wasn't able to solve major league pitching and played most of that year back in AAA. After one more at bat in '58 Graff spent six more seasons in the minors before retiring as a player.

He went on to work in baseball after getting an accounting degree. According to Baseball Reference some of the baseball jobs he held assistant general manager and Scouting Director for the Pittsburgh Pirates, infield coach for the Pirates and director of stadium operations at Three Rivers Stadium. He served as a scout for the Pirates, San Francisco Giants and Cincinnati Reds.

He died in Rockdale, Texas in 2005 having migrated to that state earlier. His son, Steve Graff a.k.a "Coach Graffie",  is a former minor leaguer and  major league coach. He now coaches amateur baseball in central Texas.