Writing this blog has been a wonderful learning experience. The 1959 Topps set held many more stories than I even imagined when I started it back in February of 2011. It began with a posting of my Brooks Robinson card.
I've been looking back at those early posts recently and have noticed how things evolved over time. I seemed to have moved away from posting about the card's appearance and a brief peek at the player and more towards lengthier player bios. Not sure if that was a change for the better or not!
Overall though, I'm happy with what I've produced here. There were times I thought I wouldn't finish and indeed there was a period in early 2012 when I stepped away from posting. When I came back having decided that posting a card every day was unrealistic things became much easier.
A few closing thoughts:
I'm not completely done here. As time goes by I am going back and cleaning up a few things. Not that it matters much to anyone except me but when I began I was using the default 'medium' Blogger image size. Along the way I switched to 'large' and I'm in the process of changing them all to the bigger size. While I do that I am also adding 'tags' which I neglected to do for a long time back when I was just beginning.
I am also double checking to make sure I haven't missed a card along the way. I tried to keep my checklist current as I went but there is always the possibility I skipped a card. If so I will add the entry ASAP.
I also have a few projects in the back of my head but just never had the time or proper motivation to tackle. If you've read more than two or three of my posts here you know I have an (unhealthy?) obsession with the stadiums seen in the photos used in this set. Most of the stadiums can be ID'd pretty easily. But I didn't keep a running tab on them. I may just satisfy my curiosity on a rainy Sunday and then post my results. I can take a pretty confident guess that 60% of the shots were from Yankee Stadium.
And I want to do a "Best of" post. Some cards/entries are special to me for one reason or another. It might be the player on the card, the card itself, how I acquired it, or the story I dug up when looking for material to include. I plan to put that list of favorites together and tack it on here.
Finally a few words about the great people I've come to know through this blog. I haven't 'met' any of you in person but I feel I've made friends though the comments, corrections, additions, criticisms and general kibitzing all of you have thrown my way here for three years. I am continuing my blog over at The Five Tool Collector and now I can be a bit more active on the 1963 Topps blog hosted by Jim from Downingtown. I will continue to read memorabilia blogs every day and I hope to continue to communicate with my friends.
It's been a blast and I'll see ya on the 'net.
Friday, March 14, 2014
Thursday, March 13, 2014
This is the last card to be posted from my 1959 Topps set. And this Roberto Clemente is one of my favorites. It doesn't show him an any sort of action pose which might reflect his skills but maybe more fittingly it's a portrait that has him with a half-smile focused off-camera. It's in 'fair' condition at best but given what they go for I think I'll pass up a chance to upgrade it. Hard to say where the shot was taken. Many Pirate cards have pictures from Seals Stadium in San Francisco but I get a vague 'L.A. Memorial Coliseum vibe' with this one.
You may have noticed that the card shows Roberto Clemente's first name as 'Bob'. I've always referred to as 'Roberto' so I'll go against my 'use what the card uses' convention and call him 'Roberto' here. I know Bob Prince called him 'Bobby' but... Bob Prince, well.... the less said the better. I understand that early in his career he was frequently referred to as 'Bob' but I have read that he didn't like it.
Just about anything I can say about the career and life of Roberto Clemente has been said in many places already by far, far better writers than me. Here are just a few highlights and a few memories of him.
From Clemente's Baseball Reference Bullpen page:
- 12-time NL All-Star (1960-1967 & 1969-1972)
- NL MVP (1966)
- 1971 World Series MVP
- 12-time NL Gold Glove Winner (1961-1972)
- 4-time NL Batting Average Leader (1961, 1964, 1965 & 1967)
- 2-time NL Hits Leader (1964 & 1967)
- NL Triples Leader (1969)
- 20-Home Run Seasons: 3 (1961, 1966 & 1967)
- 100 RBI Seasons: 2 (1966 & 1967)
- 100 Runs Scored Seasons: 3 (1961, 1966 & 1967)
- 200 Hits Seasons: 4 (1961, 1964, 1966 & 1967)
- Won two World Series with the Pittsburgh Pirates (1960 & 1971)
- Baseball Hall of Fame: Class of 1973
In the summer I moved to Houston I saw the Pirates in the Astrodome a few times. One night (and I can't find the exact game) Clemente grabbed a fly with a runner on second and threw the ball on an absolute rope to third to keep the runner from moving up. Sounds routine but to see that throw and hear the crowd buzz, well, you knew that Clemente was just special.
Next is a catch he made in 1969 at Shea Stadium. In a game that was to be the only no-hitter I've ever witnessed in person he went full speed across the right-field line as he grabbed a shot by the Met's Wayne Garrett in the 6th inning. I remember him hitting the railing along the stands after the catch.
And finally I remember how he just whipped the Orioles in the 1971 World Series. I was so happy when the O's came back to tie the Series up in Game Six in Baltimore. I figured my Birds had it won with ace Mike Cuellar starting on Sunday at home. But when Clemente homered to put the Bucs ahead I got a bad feeling that he was destined to have another World Series ring. And I was right.
Here is his Hall of Fame bio:
Roberto Clemente Walker's pride and humanitarianism won him universal admiration. Despite an unorthodox batting style, the Pirates great won four batting crowns and amassed 3,000 hits. He was equally brilliant in right field, where he displayed a precise and powerful arm. Clemente earned National League MVP honors in 1966, but achieved his greatest fame in the 1971 World Series, in which he batted .414. Tragically, Clemente's life ended at age 38 -- the victim of a plane crash while flying relief supplies to Nicaraguan earthquake victims.Some other Clemente related links of interest:
- This is a terrific book written by David Maraniss that explores Clemente's life and death. I've read it and it's well worth the time. Amazon has used hardback copies for a penny plus shipping.
- MLB's Roberto Clemente Day page.
- Clemente's New York Times obituary.
- The Smithsonian Institute's Clemente virtual museum exhibit and classroom.
That's the last card, but not the last post on this blog. I'll have a wrap-up tomorrow and maybe a few things brewing down the road. As always, thanks for reading!
Wednesday, March 12, 2014
Darrell Johnson caught for seven different major league teams (if you count the Browns and Orioles as different clubs) over parts of six seasons. Only twice did he get into 40 or more games or get 100 at bats. But he apparently was gathering baseball acumen as he went since he ended up managing in the minors and majors rather successfully.
Johnson signed with the St. Louis Browns in 1949 and hit well as he made his way up the ranks of the St. Louis system. He made the Browns' roster in 1952 and after a slow start and demotion to the minors he came back and was in the starting line-up for a month or so but in July he was traded to the White Sox.
For the next four seasons Johnson was passed around through several organizations without returning to the majors. He came back in 1957 as a spare part on the Yankees' AL title team and remained there in New York for their 1958 championship. He didn't play in any post season games for the Yanks. But in 1961 he found himself in Cincinnati after stints with the Phils and Cardinals (where he was a player/coach) and he got to start in two games against the Yanks in the World Series. He did well, too, going two for four.
A very brief whirl with the Orioles in 1962 as player/coach was Johnson's last taste of a big league field... as a player. He jumped right into managing in the Orioles' chain in 1963 and piloted teams to titles in two out of four seasons. He worked for the Yankees for a couple of seasons. He moved over to coach for the Red Sox, served as pitching instructor and scout, and then managed in their chain before being named to manage in Boston in 1974. He took over that job as a replacement for Eddie Kasko and a year later he had the Sox in the World Series against the Reds in a Fall Classic for the ages.
But in July of '76 with his team three games under .500 Johnson was canned and replaced by Don Zimmer. The next season he became the first manager of the Seattle Mariners. He remained in that spot with a struggling expansion franchise until 1980 when he was replaced by Maury Wills.
Johnson's last managerial job came in July of 1982 when, in a nice little twist of baseball fate, he stepped in to finish out the season when Don Zimmer was canned as manager of the Texas Rangers. He went on to coach with the Mets and then was a part of their front office.
Johnson's story is really a fascinating one. His SABR bio is a good read and it includes background on his relationships with players and press. It also includes the story of how Johnson and Browns pitcher Cliff Fannin were a losing pitcher/catcher battery for a major and minor league team in the same day.
Darrell Johnson died in 2004. Of course that's Yankee Stadium behind Johnson on this off-center but otherwise very nice card. I'm going to miss these things.
is the last
and then we are done.
Tuesday, March 11, 2014
Mark Freeman graduated from Memphis' Christian Brothers High School in 1948 where he lettered in baseball and basketball, and was an All-State baseball pitcher. He was awarded a baseball/basketball scholarship to LSU.
Freeman signed a contract with the Yankees in 1951 and began his pro career but he continued his education and received his degree from LSU in 1953. Meanwhile he had begun a seven year climb towards the majors taking a nearly two season detour to serve in the U.S. Army as a First Lieutenant and Sports Officer and manager of Ft. Jackson baseball team at Ft. Jackson, South Carolina.
He returned to civilian life and baseball in 1956 and was a double digit winner for three straight seasons in Denver where the Yanks had their AAA club. While there he established team marks for season strikeouts and shutouts.
On the eve of the 1959 season he was traded to the Kansas City Athletics and made it into three April games as a reliever for them. In mid-May he was returned to the Yanks. I cannot find anything to suggest why and given the history of the Athletics and Yankees during the 1950s it was likely another on of those deals of convenience for New York. The Yanks sent him to pitch in Seattle of the PCL and he had another fine AAA season there including a no-hitter. In September the Yanks activated Freeman and he capped his tumultuous season with a start at Yankee Stadium against the Orioles. He pitched seven innings allowing only six hits and two runs while fanning four. He left with the game tied but the Yanks lost it in 11 innings.
He was back in the minors to open 1960 but the Yanks dealt him to the Cubs in May and he spent the rest of that season pitching in the National League. He made eight starts over 30 appearances and went 3-3 with his only career save.
He retired to Denver, Colorado after that season to work full time in the mutual funds business which he had dabbled in for the last several years of his baseball career. He was a very successful business man and established an endowment fund for supporting the tutoring of student athletes at LSU in 2003.
His LSU bio (he was alum of 'distinction') mentions that he was founded and served as President of the Denver Broncos Quarterback Club (their official booster club).
His card shows him in a spring training shot with a retouched cap featuring the Athletics' logo but untouched Yankee pinstripes. I came across several versions of a story that goes like this:
Once, during a game when Mark Freeman was pitching for the New York Yankees, a bee buzzed his head and he balked. Casey Stengel, the Yankee manager, told him: "Next time ... swallow it."Volume 4 of the Baseball Hall of Shame series of books contains the same story but stated the game was played against the Tigers.
Two problems with this. First of all Freeman never pitched for the Yanks against the Tigers. His only game was that September '59 start against the Orioles. And second of all, according to Baseball reference game summaries he never committed a balk. Not in his big league career anyway.
My guess? It was a spring training game or it's a story that somehow evolved from some other incident and mutated in the retelling. With Casey Stengel stories that's very possible.
Here he is in his Yankee gear, unblemished by the Topps artist's brush and another spring camp shot in which he warms up while Stengel watches closely.
And here he is as a businessman years later:
Freeman died in 2006.
Monday, March 10, 2014
This is the last card from any of the '59 set's subsets. And it's the last of Roy Sievers' four cards in the set. Here is his regular card and we had his Baseball Thrills card and the Directing the Power special which he shared with Nats' Manager Cookie Lavagetto and Jim Lemon.
Roy, whose nickname was 'Squirrel', made four AL All Star Squads and played in three of the games. He represented the Senators in 1956, '57 and '59. He made the club as a White Sox in 1961. He did not appear in the 1957 game and got one plate appearance in '56 and in one of the two games played in '59 and '61. He drew a walk in the 1st game in '59 and that was the only time he reached base as an All Star.
This card has Griffith Stadium as a background and is sort of rough around the edges (like me in many ways) and that's an acceptable condition to me. I hadn't noticed until I scanned it but someone wrote a "3" to the right of Roy's name on the card. That's fitting since.....
We are winding down with just
Saturday, March 8, 2014
If you're going to play only one season of major league baseball you might as well make it a season that ends up with a World Series, right? And so it was with lefty pitcher Rodolfo 'Rudy' Arias. A Cuban native he had pitched in his home country for several years before signing with the Chicago White Sox in 1953 as a 22 year old.
Interestingly he had been approached by Joe Cambria, the Senators' 'super scout' who had reeled in so many Cuban stars for the Nats in the 50s. But Arias, on the advice of a Cuban baseball executive, put off signing with Cambria. He had hopes of drawing interest on a baseball trip his Cuban team was about to take to the States. And he was right. Based on his play the White Sox made a much larger offer than Cambria routinely did.
Beginning with his first season in the minors in '53 Arias pitched nearly year-round as he traveled back to Cuba to play in the winter leagues there. His first minor league season was his best but he continued to climb the Sox' ladder despite less than gaudy stats until he made the club in the spring of 1959.
That year he appeared in 34 games with the White Sox, all in relief. He totaled 44 innings and posted a 4.09 ERA to go with a 2-0 record. He made his last appearance of the season late in August but was on the Sox' post-season roster when they played the Dodgers in the World Series. Arias did not get into a Series game.
He was back in the minors in 1960 and moved through several organizations, never resurfacing in the big leagues. He last pitched in Mexico in 1966 after he had 'retired' for several seasons due to an arm ailment. After retiring for good Arias worked in the Miami area in construction and security. His interesting life and career are told best on his SABR bio page.
His oldest son, also named Rudy, was a catcher in the Mariners organization and remains in baseball today serving as the Orioles bullpen catcher.
Free bonus... image of a Cuban baseball card of Rudy Arias. This is the place that sells them.
Thursday, March 6, 2014
Born to Russian immigrant parents, Danny Kravitz was signed out of Lopez, Pennsylvania by the Pirates in 1949. He hit well, especially for a catcher of that era and climbed up through the Bucs' system with a two year detour to play ball while serving Uncle Sam in the U.S. Marines.
He made the Pirates' roster as back-up receiver in 1956 and debuted in the second game of the season against the Giants in New York. He went hit-less but doubled and drove in a run the next day. He was sent back to the minors that June but again made the team in 1957 only to find himself back in the minors for most of the year.
Kravitz was with the Pirates for all of the next two seasons as a reserve and began the 1960 season with them as well but he was traded to the Athletics on the first of June and he played more in half a season in KC than he had in any previous year with Pittsburgh. But while by being traded he saw the most action of his career he also missed out on that fall's World Championship run by the Pirates.
That 1960 season was to be his last in the majors as he was traded to the Reds that winter and then moved on to the Orioles' and Yankees' systems but he never again played in a big league uniform. He retired after the 1963 season. His obituary states that he moved 32 times during his baseball career. That's a lot of box packing. Kravitz worked for GTE-Sylvania until his retirement in 1995.
Kravitz passed away in 2013. He was preceded in death by seven brothers. All eight of the Kravitz boys had served in the U.S. military. Good for them!!
There are now only five
more cards to go before we put it to bed.
Tuesday, March 4, 2014
Larry 'Bo' Osborne is another baseball 'lifer' and sits in the middle of a three generation run of baseball men. His father, Earnest 'Tiny" Osborne, pitched for the Cubs and Robins (Dodgers) in the 1920s. Bo's sons Tim and Sid played college baseball and Tim has worked for the Major League Scouting Bureau for years.
Bo Osborne (he is also referred to as 'Bobo') turned down a football scholarship from Auburn to sign with the Tigers in 1953 as he came out of Atlanta's West Fulton high school. Flashing good power Osborne was able to improve his average even as he climbed through the Tigers' system for five seasons. He got a 1957 call-up when Tiger outfielder Bill Tuttle was injured but he hit only .148 in eleven games.
He was back in the minors for the bulk of the next season but made the Tigers in 1959. Playing in 86 games and getting over 200 at bats he hit less than .200 and found himself in Denver playing for the Tigers' AAA level Bears in 1960. He had a pretty memorable year. By hitting 5 fot 7 in the season's final two games he edged future Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski for the batting title. And he also led the league in homers and RBI to capture the Triple Crown.
He spent the next two seasons pinch-hitting for Detroit and occasionally filling in at first base for Norm Cash at first and playing some at third. Prior to the '63 season he Tigers sold Osborne to the Senators where he earned the starting first base job and hit 12 homers with 44 RBI. But his average was only .212 and he went back to the minors in '64 and played out the rest of his on-field career there.
When he retired he coached (one year as a player/coach) and managed in the minors in the Royals' system for the most part before moving into scouting. He passed away at 75 in 2011.
I like pink framed cards but that cap Osborne is wearing looks to be about three sizes too big. This is one of the least appealing cards in the set IMHO. On his '62 Topps Osborne displayed one of the great 'chaw bumps' of all time.
six cards left to go.
Sunday, March 2, 2014
The back of Jim Coates' '59 card states he was a 'high school sensation' in Farnham, Virginia. That may very well be true but it doesn't tell the same story that Coates himself does in his memoirs, "Always a Yankee: A Pitcher's Story". Fact is that Coates dropped out of high school at 16 to work cutting trees and pitch in a semi-pro league against older and more experienced competition.
His skills earned him a Yankee try-out and later a contract offer. So in 1951 the tall, thin righthander found himself beginning to pitch his way up the Yankee chain. He spent five seasons in the minors and finally got a two game peek in 1956 before returning to the minors for '57 and suffering a broken arm which cost him most of the 1958 season.
Coates made the Yankee staff in '59 and won six games while showing his versatility by filling roles as short man, long reliever and starter. He hit his stride in 1960 and won 13 games against three losses in 35 games, 18 of them starts. He was named to his only AL All Star squad and pitched a couple of innings in that year's first of two ASGs. Along the way he picked up his nickname of 'Mummy' for his mound appearance which has been described as 'funereal'.
He gained some unwanted notoriety during the 1960 World Series against the Pirates. In the deciding seventh game of that wacky Series he failed to hold a lead in the eighth inning. He had relieved Bobby Shantz following the "pebble grounder" that hit Tony Kubek in the throat. Coates, entering with two runners on and none out got two outs and forced Roberto Clemente to top a roller towards the right side of the infield but Clemente beat the play at first. Coates has been blamed, probably unfairly as has been shown, for failing to cover the bag on a play that would have ended the inning with the Yanks still ahead. Hal Smith then followed with a home run that put the Pirates up two and chased Coates.
The Yanks managed to tie the game up in the ninth but Bill Mazeroski's homer sent the city of Pittsburgh into delirium. Coates survived and pitched as well or better in 1961 and he picked up World Series rings with New York that year and the next. This blog page has an interesting account of that 1960 Series' 7th Game including a couple of video clips.
In the spring of 1963 the Yanks traded Coates to Washington. After a season there he went to the Reds and then the Angels. He never matched his Yankee success but pitched through 1970 in the Angels' system before retiring to work as an electrician.
He was referred to quite a bit in Jim Bouton's book Ball Four. Bouton said "Coates could pose as the illustration for an undertaker's sign. He has the personality to match..." Coates' grandson, Aaron Pribanic, was a minor league prospect for the Mariners and Pirates who pitched for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Friday, February 28, 2014
Outfielder Bob Speake had a major league 'moment in the sun' in 1955. As a Cubs rookie he was given the role as a starting outfielder due to an injury to Hank Sauer and he went on a home run tear with 10 in his first 90 big league at-bats. He capped his run with five RBIs in a Memorial Day doubleheader on a 4 for 8 day that saw his average hit .304. But it was downhill from there and he ended the season with just two more homers and a .218 average.
Sports Illustrated had taken note of Speake during his hot 1955 run and published the following in this June 13 issue in an article on the Cubs surprising success:
The lead in the melodrama has been played by a lean young man named Bob Speake, who hit all of .264 for Des Moines last year and who had been to bat only eight times for the Cubs prior to May 2. Then veteran Outfielder Hank Sauer ate tainted shrimp and became ill with food poisoning. Speake, a first baseman by trade, was pressed into service as an outfielder and promptly caught fire. He hit a three-run triple against the Giants, a two-run homer to beat the Reds, a two-run homer to beat the Phils, a tenth-inning two-run homer to beat the Braves. He hit a home run to beat the Cardinals 1-0 in the first game of a double-header on May 25 and a run-producing double that provided the margin of victory in the second game. He hit a two-run homer in a 3-0 game against the Cards the next day. On Memorial Day he hit a two-run home run and batted in four runs as the Cubs beat the Cardinals 9-5 in the first game and won the second game with a home run in the eleventh inning. It was a very merry month of May for young Mr. Speake.Unfortunately for Speake and the Cubs, as we have seen, by the time this was on newstands the slipper had been lost and the coach was again a pumpkin on the North Side.
He had begun as a pro by signing with the Cubs in 1948. He sandwiched a two year Army stint around four seasons in the Cubs chain where he proved to be a power hitter who wasn't much for average or OBP. But a 20 homer, .264 average season at the Class A level in 1954 got him that shot with the '55 Cubs.
He spent 1956 with the Los Angeles Angels of the PCL and his 25-111-.300 stat line got him back to Wrigley in 1957. He played that year nearly full time in the Cubs lineup and hit .232 with 16 homers but the Cubs moved him to the Giants that off season for Bobby Thomson.
With San Francisco in '58 he had less that 100 at bats and a terrible start to the 1959 season resulted in a trip back to the minors, a move noted on the back of this card. He finished out that year at AA and retired. He was in the bowling business in his native Springfield, Missouri before starting up an insurance company with a partner.
What caused his short career after such a promising start? One theory, advanced on a Cubbie message board, alleges that NL opponents discovered he had a 'blind spot' and that was the end of his salad days. Maybe, maybe not. With all the ex-major leaguers who played against Speake in the PCL in 1956 one would think his numbers would of suffered as they had in Chicago after May of 1955.
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
Oh, the irony! Knuckleball specialist Bobby Tiefenauer (and I'm NOT typing that again) spent from 1948 through 1969 playing pro baseball across North America and another 20 coaching but in 1959, the year this card was issued.... he was 'voluntarily retired'.
Signed by the Cardinals in 1948 he pitched in their minor league system for the better part of eight seasons getting a six game look in 1952 and a more extended 18 game stint in 1955. Those shots totaled 40 innings. In September of '56 the Cards dealt him to the Tigers in the first of a dizzying array of transactions for Tief that saw him pitch for six major league teams and in the system of a seventh in addition to being the property of several independent AAA clubs.
Rather than try to reproduce a 'map' of his career I'll let Baseball Reference lay it all out.
Teams Played For
Glossary · SHARE · Embed · CSV · PRE · LINK · ?
One odd detail in all this is that Tief looked to be ready to establish himself in the majors in '59 as he was coming off some very good seasons in Toronto. I can't find anything that hints at why he sat out that season after being traded to Cleveland. Since SABR doesn't have a Tief bio it remains a mystery. Perhaps he had gotten comfortable in Toronto and would have preferred to stay there.
But he did report to the Indians in 1960 and that began a 10 season odyssey of trades, sales, demotions, and promotions among several organizations. His busiest major league seasons came in 1962 when he pitched in 43 games for Houston and 1964/'65 when he had 46 and 31 appearances for the Braves (and Yankees in the second half of '65). He had 13 saves for Milwaukee in '64 which is more than half his career total.
In all he won nine games with a 3.84 ERA in 179 big league innings. In almost 850 minor league games over 19 seasons he was 162-96 with an ERA of just 2.66. He is enshrined in the International League Hall of Fame.
He last pitched in 1969 with the Cubs' AAA club and then spent nearly two decades in the Philadelphia Phillies' organization, working as a bullpen coach and a minor league pitching coach. He passed away at the age of 70 in 2000.