Friday, January 31, 2014

#436 Granny Hamner

Granville 'Granny' Hamner was the captain of the 1950 'Whiz Kids' that won the NL pennant. He was in his third full season with the Phils at that point. As a 17 year old signee in 1944 he played in 21 big league games and held his own hitting almost .250. He struggled the following year and was in the minors for most of it and then spent most of 1947 in the military.

He took over as the teams' starting shortstop in 1948 and held down a middle infield spot for a decade usually hitting between .260 and .280 and showing some power. He held the Phils' record for homers by a shortstop (17 in 1952) until Jimmy Rollins broke it in 2006. He had over 100 career dingers. In that 1950 Series against the Yankees Hamner hit .429 on 6 for 14 with three extra base hits.

Hamner, who's brother Garvin was his teammate and sometimes DP partner in '45, was the first player to be elected as an All Star starter at two positions. He was there as a shortstop in 1952 and was selected as a second baseman the next two seasons. 1954 was arguably his best season as he hit .299 with 11 triples, 13 homers and 89 RBI.

In 1956 Hamner hurt his shoulder which limited his ability to swing a bat but he possessed a pretty good knuckleball and the Phils used him out of the bullpen a few times. That injury and a 1958 blown knee all but ended his career. He was traded to the Indians in May of 1959 but struggled at the plate and retired as an active player (or so he thought).

After moving into coaching and managing in the minors he was pressed into service as a pitcher a few times in the A's system and when injuries crippled the major league staff Hamner was activated by the big club and he got into three games in 1962. His last association with the game in an on-the-field capacity was as a minor league manager in 1988. He spent many years in the Phils' organization as an instructor and minor league supervisor.

He died in 1993. Some fun stuff (including Hamner memories from Richie Ashburn) can be found in this Google book excerpt.

In addition to having a brother who played major league ball Hamner's grandson, Chris Ambrosius was a standout college player at Penn.

I'm puzzled by the text blurb on the back on the card. It implies that Hamner began his pro career as a pitcher before giving it up to play the field. I can't find any evidence that was the case. Hamner made it clear in this interview that his pitching came about as the result of his injured shoulder and he certainly had no aspirations to change to a full time hurler. His minor league career in the 40s as a Phils' farmhand was strictly as an infielder.

Red railings = Seals Stadium in San Francisco. As pointed out in a comment by Bob O. on the Billy Harrell card posted the other day, these 5th Series light blue cards have white type for player names and position, yellow lettering for team designation. Besides the Harrell and Hamner the Elston Howard card falls into this category. Other light blue cards in the set use black letters for name and team, white for position.  I scanned the two recent light blue cards at the same time and something about them struck me as odd. But my copy of the Harrell card is so pale and washed out I chalked up my thoughts to that and only later looked into it further. Yesterday's comment got me to look back at all the cards in that series and I saw the Howard card.

Back in 2012 I did a few posts on the color distribution of the '59 set. I've revised one of those posts to reflect the two different coloring conventions for the light blue cards.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

#433 Billy Harrell

This card of Cardinals' infielder Billy Harrell seems pretty mundane with the hatless subject staring out into the middle distance from what I'm guessing is the visitors' dugout in Yankee Stadium. But some of the most mundane cards reveal some of the coolest stories.

Billy Harrell has one such story. The Norristown, Pennsylvania native played basketball for Sienna College from 1949 through 1952. He was very good at it, too. So good that he was known as 'The Flash', received UPI All American honorable mention honors and he led Sienna to the National Catholic Invitational Tournament championship in 1950. Don't sell that short. The NCIT was considered a top tournament back in those days, right up there with the NIT (then the most prestigious postseason prize) and NCAA tournaments.

The tournament was still in it's infancy then and was scheduled to he held in Baltimore until it was learned that the area hotels would not allow the black players to stay at their establishments. Sienna, who had already received their invite as the #3 seed, offered to host and Harrell and his teammates ran the table (Harrell apparently was a hellacious rebounder) and took home the trophy.

As an interesting aside, City College of New York won both the NIT and NCAA tourneys that year (the only team to ever pull that off) but had both crowns were spoiled by a point shaving scandal that erupted within a year.

Harrell finished his Sienna career as the schools season rebounding record holder, a record that was only broken in 2011. His #10 was the first uniform number ever retired by the school.

Harrell moved on to pro sports after his Sienna days and played baseball for the Birmingham Barons of the Negro Leagues and hoops for the ABL's Saratoga Harlem Yankees. He had previously rejected offers from the Minneapolis Lakers and Harlem Globetrotters. Eventually he signed with the Cleveland Indians and spent six seasons in their system. He had call-ups in 1956 and 1957 and hit pretty well. He spent the entire season with Cleveland in 1958 and played some at shortstop getting almost 250 at bats. He hit only .218 and the Indians waived him that winter and he was claimed by St. Louis.

Although shown as a Cardinal Harrell never made the team and spent two full seasons at the AAA level. His bat (he hit ..293 in 1960) attracted the Red Sox and they took him in the minor league draft and used him a bit in 1961 but after that he was never able to rise past the AAA level and remained there until he retired in 1966. The cardback has a line indicating St. Louis sending him down before the season.

Billy Harrell is (unofficially) the only player to have played in three countries over a span of two days. With Rochester in 1960 he played past midnight in a doubleheader in Havana before catching the 'red eye' to Toronto for the International League All Star Game that evening. He then rejoined his teammates for a home game stateside the next day.

At last report Harrell is retired in Albany, NY, where he had been employed with the State Youth Division in placement and counseling. An article/interview that focused on him and the plight of other former players who fell outside the old baseball pension guidelines can be found here.

Here is a small pic of Harrell playing for Sienna.

Monday, January 27, 2014

#517 Joe Koppe

First of all, Joe Koppe is not a pitcher. That pose sure makes it look like he is one though, doesn't it? When I hit up his Baseball Reference page I thought I had made a mistake or something, it was all hitting stats. Then I rechecked the card and sure enough it said 'infield'. Proves once again that there are plenty of things for me to learn in the '59 set.

Koppe (who was born Joe Kopchia) may not have been a 'name' player but he sure was at it a long time. He spent seven seasons, from 1949 through '55, playing independent pro ball in Texas and Louisiana and building a reputation as a versatile, fine fielding middle infielder. Then he was signed by Milwaukee and he spent the next three seasons in the Brave's chain finally getting a taste of the bigs at the end of 1958. He played in 10 games, got nine at bats and had four hits. He had three hits in his first two games in six at bats. Koppe didn't get to play in the World Series that year but he did get a 'taste' of the pennant winning spoils... here he is getting a Miller High Life shower from Braves teammate Juan Pizzaro while Felix Mantilla and Hank Aaron (partially hidden) look on on September 22 when the Braves clinched:

Despite that auspicious debut the Braves included him in a trade package with the Phils. Topps included him in their set here in the high numbers and took a picture credited to Spring Training of 1956 and changed it (poorly, the Phils never used that piping) into one of Koppe as a Phillie. Here is the original shot:

Koppe, a 28 year old rookie at this point, took over a spot in the Phillies' infield and had a nice season hitting .261 and hitting seven homers. He was picked to be a part of the 'Topps All Rookie Team' and was so honored on his 1960 card:

Ruben Amaro got the bulk of the work at short for the Phils in 1960 as Koppe's bat all but disappeared. On May 4th of 1961 the Phils traded Koppe to the Dodgers who assigned him to the minors and then in a week and a half, on May 16th, traded him to the Cardinals. A month after that he was purchased by the Angels for the grand sum of  $1000.

For that one grand the Angels got a utility player who played nearly full-time in 1962 and as a handyman for several years after that. After splitting the 1965 season between the Angels and the minors Koppe was out of baseball. He passed away in 2006.

Late Edit:

In the comments for this post reader Paul pointed out that Koppe once posed with a lefty's glove for a card. I found that card. Thanks Paul.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

#507 Bob Hale

In each of Bob Hale's first two years in the minors after signing with the Browns in 1952 he had exactly 473 at bats while playing in 121 games. Identical numbers, both seasons. How did he pull that off?
Anyway his batting average did climb and he continued to hit well for a couple of additional seasons until he got a shot with the Orioles in July of 1955.

He took advantage of it, too. He hit .357 from his July 4th debut until the end of the year. But those numbers were hard to match and Hale split time in each of the next four seasons between the Orioles and the minors. Most of his big league time was as a pinch hitter but he did play first base, too. Oddly he played in the Dodgers', White Sox', and Tigers' organizations at various times during that stretch without being involved in any transactions I can find. Must have been some sort of 'loan-a-bat' program.

He was waived by the Orioles and claimed by Cleveland for 1960 and for a year and a half he was their #1 hitter off the bench. In July of 1961 the Tribe sold Hale to the Yankees and he had a front row seat for the Maris/Mantle home run chase as well as getting to pour pennant winning clubhouse champagne. He did not get to play in that season's World Series.

In a Jerome Holtzman book I found on Amazon Hale discusses his brief Yankee tenure. He comments on the depth of that '61 club by stating that while he was the #1 pinch hitter at each of his previous stops he was #4 on the Yankees. He also mentions that he received a 2/3 Series share despite only having pinch hit seven times for them (actually he had 10 pinch at bats plus one full game, but who's counting?)

Hale goes on to comment on the Yankees' decision to farm him out for 1962 proclaiming that he'd hit .300 at Richmond.and be recalled. That never happened. Hale hit .282 in close to 100 games but never did make it back to the big leagues. So it turned out that his last major league game was the game that Roger Maris hit his 61st homer.

There is not much about Bob Hale that I can find on Google. I did learn from this blog page that from August of 1960 thru August of 1961 he went 60 games with an at-bat without scoring a run. As of 2008 that stood as the fourth longest streak since 1956. Take that for what it's worth.

Bob Hale passed away in September of 2012.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

#511 George Susce

Pitcher George Susce Jr. was signed by the Boston Red Sox in 1951. And so begins the best story I uncovered while looking into this card. As soon as George Jr. signed that contract his father, George Susce Sr., former big league catcher, was fired as a coach by the Indians because of George Jr.'s choice of teams. I bet there is a lot more to that story in the way of juicy details but I can't find much outside of the fact that it happened. (The card's cartoon mentions his father as being a coach with Milwaukee.)

But fear not, there is a happy ending. George Sr. was coaching for the Kansas City Athletics the day George Jr. pitched the best game of his rookie '55 season. It was a one hit shutout of the A's and was the first time dad had watched son pitch in the big leagues.

Junior had begun his pro career with a rough season in the Red Sox' minor league system in '51. 1952 wasn't looking much more promising when he was called to serve in the Army during the Korean Wan. He missed most of that season and all the next. Army life seems to have had a positive effect because when he returned to pitch he went 14-6 with the AAA level Louisville club with a WHIP of 1.159 and a couple of shutouts.

He won a job with Boston for 1955 and stayed with the Sox for just over three seasons as a long reliever/spot starter. His 9 wins, 15 starts and 144 innings during his rookie season were career highs. Susce was waived by the Sox in May of 1958 and claimed by the Tigers. He finished the season with Detroit, again as a spot starter, but found himself farmed out in May of 1959 after a terrible start to the season. That move is noted on the back of the card. Susce never returned to the majors or to organized ball for that matter after that season.

This card is somewhat unusual in that the Topps photographer took the shot with the Yankee Stadium first base side in the background. Most players on visiting teams had their pictures taken with the third base/left field area behind them. They were usually out in front of the visitors dugout on the third base side.

A few tidbits related to the Susce and family:

George Jr. was listed as exactly that on his 1956 Topps card but not on his subsequent three Topps cards.

He had a brother Paul who pitched for Auburn from 1953 through 1956 and made Al-SEC his senior season. His 0.99 ERA in his second season remains a school record. He played a year of minor league ball in 1957 and went on to coach high school baseball in Florida and Virginia. He later worked for Worth Sporting Goods.

Here is Paul Susce at a spring training camp wearing some wild shorts:

I found a picture of George Sr. and Junior. Looks like it might be from the day that I mentioned when George Sr. saw his son's gem. At least we can see it was from a KC-Boston encounter and it was labeled as being from 1955.

George Sr. had a long career as coach/manager/consultant for several organizations and it appears he missed coaching on his son's club in 1955 by just a season.

Here is Susce Sr.'s card from the 1955 Rodeo Meats set:

Here is dad again but wearing his St. Louis Browns' duds in a gorgeous recolored pic I found on Uni-Watch.

Lots of unverifiable Susce info in this blog post and particularly in the comments.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

#512 George Altman

George Altman's card is the first in a run of high number cards that will be posted over the next couple of weeks. The red, black and white motif on the back is a giveaway that it's a '59 high number.

Not many of the cards that have been posted here are so devoid of stats and have such long write-ups as this one. Altman's pro experience was limited in 1959 but by the time he was through with baseball Altman had enjoyed an interesting and varied career, to say the least.

1959 was the rookie season of Altman's 'first' career. He had already played at Tennessee A & I* (which was renamed Tennessee State University in the late 60s) and for the the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues after college. Signed by the Cubs in '56 Altman played for two seasons in the minors flashing some power and speed. He sandwiched those two seasons around a year in the Army during which he played service baseball.

Altman had respectable if not eye-opening numbers in his first two major league years playing the outfield and some firstbase and then he broke through in 1961. That year he made the NL All Star squad, led the league with 12 triples and had career highs with 27 homers and 94 RBI to go along with a .303 average. His average jumped to .318 in 1962 and he made his second All Star team but the rest of his numbers failed to match the previous season's and the Cubs packaged him that October in a trade to St. Louis.

His one season with the Cardinals wasn't more than just ordinary and he was traded again, this time to the Mets. He spent the '64 season in New York and his numbers diminished still. Finally he found himself back with the Cubs for 1965 and he played there for just a bit over two seasons as a part-time outfielder and was in the minors for most of '67. In his nine season MLB career he had 101 homers and hit for a .269 average.

That marked the end of his stateside ball but in 1968 he accepted an offer from the Tokyo Orions and for eight seasons he was a popular power-hitting outfielder in Japan. Below is a You Tube video which is actually a recorded phone interview with Altman done by two Chicago radio sports show hosts. In it they mention that Altman began his career with a franchise owned by a gum company (Cubs/Wrigley) and nearly ended it with another one (Lotte Orions/Lotte Holdings). Actually Altman played one more year in Japan with the Hanshin Tigers in 1969 and then called it a career.

All in all Altman played for a high school and college team, in the Negro Leagues, on a U.S. Army team, in the minors, the majors, in winter ball in Cuba and in Japan. Quite the resume.

There is a nice blog bio of Altman to be found here. The Negro League e-Museum has an Altman bio page. Last, but certainly not least Altman wrote an autobiography that was published last fall. It's available here on Amazon.

*- Altman had actually attended TSU on a basketball scholarship and helped lead the Tigers to three national Black Collegiate championships. More details (and the same video shown below) are available on this Altman page on the Tennessee State Athletic site.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

#421 Herm Wehmeier

Herm Wehmeier was signed by his hometown Cincinnati Reds as an 18-year-old high school phenom in 1945. He pitched well enough at the AA level to get a call-up and two game big league look at the end of the season. He was shelled in his debut start and then spent the next two seasons posting wins in the Reds' system.

In 1948 Wehmeier was up to stay and he spent five seasons in the Reds' rotation as their #2 or 3 starter winning about ten games a year with high ERAs for a consistently second division club. His problem with control kept him from having the success his 'stuff' suggested he'd have. According to Wikipedia he led the National League in walks allowed in 1949 (117), 1950 (135) and 1952 (103). He led the NL in earned runs allowed (145) in 1950. He led the NL in wild pitches in 1949 (7) and 1950 (11). He led the NL in hit batsmen (7) in 1952. 

Thus he was a easy scapegoat for the troubles of the struggling team. This chapter from a book by Flip Bondy which I found on Google Books is a fun read. And it is worth the click just for the picture of Herm and Mrs. Herm. Wehmeier lost his starting spot in 1953 and after a terrible start to the 1954 season he was sold to the Phillies in June. He rebounded in Phily and won ten games with outstanding numbers over the second half of his first season there.

Wehmeier's effectiveness fell off some in '55 and in May of '56 he was traded to the Cardinals along with Murray Dickson in a deal that saw the Phils acquire Stu Miller and Harvey Haddix. The irony of that trade is that it came just two days after the Cards had beaten Wehmeier for the 14th consecutive time in his career! He had never beaten them and understandably some must have questioned the trade. He pitched very well for the Cards after a few adjustments in his mechanics and he won 12 games for them the rest of the way. 

The big righthander backed that up with a ten win season in '57 but in 1958, in what was a regular pattern now, his poor start led to a move. He was sold to the Tigers in May. He hurt his arm in July and never pitched again. So his career was over by the time this card was issued.

This very entertaining blog post tells the story of his struggles with the Reds, the trade to the Cards, his post-career life and unusual death (a heart attack while testifying at an embezzlement trial). Well worth the quick read.

If you think this card looks familiar it may be because it's almost a twin to the #417 Virgil Trucks card shown below and blogged here (has it really been two and a half years?). They are even just a few numbers away from each other on the checklist are in the same page in my binder. The difference is that 'Fire' Trucks was photographed at Yankee Stadium. The Wehmeier picture however appears to be a Polo Grounds shot. He wasn't an American Leaguer outside of a few months in 1958 and that is not Yankee Stadium. 

Obviously Wehmeier's cap was altered (as was Trucks'). I'd bet that the same photographer took both shots at different New York locales. 

Here they are together in the binder.

Friday, January 17, 2014

#371 Dick Brodowski

Only 30 cards remain in the 1959 Topps set after this one of Dick Bordowski is posted. There is one superstar's card, a couple of All Star cards and a bunch of the high number series cards remaining. If I can keep to my regular every-other-day posting habits I should complete the cards before Opening Day, which would be 55 years after the set was first issued.

New Jersey born right-hander Dick Bordowski signed with the Red Sox straight out of high school in 1951 and made an immediate splash in their minor league system with a 21-5 season at the 'D' level. He pitched well the next season at AAA and was rewarded with a June call-up to the Sox. He had one good, one OK and one bad outing right off the bat but when called upon to start late in the month he rewarded the Sox with a pair of complete game wins. He had a roller coaster season after that and ended up with a 5-5 record and an ERA of 4.40 with 12 starts over 20 appearances.

He was in the service for the next two years and interestingly he didn't pitch much even though he was a member of the Army's baseball team. Instead he played second base. He had originally been signed as a duel position player (inf/p) and over his career he was a good hitter. Bordowski was back with the Sox for the '55 season and was generally ineffective. He was traded to Washington in 1956 and the Indians in 1958. Over those four years after his Boston days he was up and down between the majors and minors every season.

After one poor outing in 1960 he was out of the game as a player. After baseball Bordowski worked as a salesman, an insurance agent and in security. The Baseball Historian blog has a neat interview with him. He's sharp, funny and has some interesting Ted Williams stories. The interview is here and it's worth a look.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

#404 Hank Sauer

At the age of 42 in 1959 Hank Sauer was the third oldest player to have a card in the set. Only Enos Slaughter and Murray Dickson had a year on the guy whose nickname was 'Honker'. While he's shown with his last team, the Giants, Sauer's glory days came with the Chicago Cubs with whom he played from 1949 through 1956.

Sauer's pro baseball career began way back in 1937 when he signed with the Yankees after the western Pennsylvania native had spent a couple of years working in a New Deal Civilian Conservation Corps job to help support his family. He spent three years playing in the Yankee's system and displaying a powerful bat before he was drafted away by the Reds. Over the next seven years Sauer played mostly in the minors for Cincinnati while getting three major league trials of various lengths and putting in a year of military service. His minor league exploits led to his being elected to the Minor League Baseball Hall of Fame.

He took over the left-field job for the Reds in 1948 and proceeded to blast 35 homers while hitting .260 and driving in 97 runs. But a slow start to 1949, combined with a propensity to strike out caused the Reds to trade Sauer to the Cubs in June. He made the most of the change in scenery and in less than 100 games he had 27 homers, 83 RBI and a .291 average. His hitting captured the hearts of Cub fans and they would shower him with pouches of his favorite chewing tobacco during games.

His hitting had improved when he switched to a heavy 40 ounce bat and it never let up during a five season stretch on Chicago's North Side. Dubbed the 'Mayor of Wrigley Field' Sauer hit over thirty homers in each of the next five seasons except one. In 1952 he led the NL in home runs with 37 and RBI with 121. He won the NL MVP Award for that production.

His numbers plummeted in 1955 and he had lost his starting job when the Cubs traded him to the Cards. He played well in a reserve role in St. Louis but was released due to what Sauer claims was his being a bad influence on Stan Musial. Sauer discusses this in his SABR bio:

Sauer, playing as a reserve in 1956, batted 151 times, but he averaged .298 with five home runs and 24 RBIs, despite being hit in the face with a bat during one of the team’s practice sessions. Also, he and his roommate stayed out until after midnight two or three nights a week, which, Hank recollected, Musial enjoyed.
The Cardinals’ management, however, did not favor late-night carousing. Sauer observed, “In September of ‘56, the manager [Fred Hutchinson] came up and said, ‘Hank, we’ve got to let you go.’ I said, ‘Let me go! I’m having a pretty damn good year. Why are you letting me go?’
“He said, ‘Yeah, you’re having a good year, but your roommate is having a lousy year. He’s only hitting .315.’ I said, ‘What the hell’s the matter with .315?’ He said, ‘Musial is not a .315 hitter. He’s a .330 hitter. You’re on your way!’ So I was the one who had to go.”
Sauer revived his career with the Giants in 1957 and earned Comeback of the Year honors but in '58 he was back to a reserve role and in '59 he played sparingly before becoming a coach at mid-season. That ended his playing days. He remained with the Giants in various capacities for 35 years. He died at the age of 84 in 2001 while playing golf.

That's Seals Stadium behind Sauer with it's distinctive red railings. The 'Honker' looks every bit of his 42 years, doesn't he?

Sauer's brother Ed played the outfield for three NL teams in the 1940s. His son Hank Jr. played three years in the lower minors in the 1970s. There are several articles about his days in Chicago on the Chicago Tribune web site. And here is his obit in that paper.

Monday, January 13, 2014

#430 Whitey Ford

Whitey Ford didn't pitch the first game of every Sunday doubleheader at Yankee Stadium that my father and I attended, it only seems that way as I look back. No doubt I saw the great lefty pitch more than any other starter in the years I've been going to games. The Astros' Don Wilson would likely be second.

Anyway, Ford was a favorite of my father's. Probably second only to Allie Reynolds as far as Yankee pitchers go. He signed with the Yanks in 1947. He was a local kid having grown up in the Astoria section of Queens and attending Aviation Tech High School. Three and a half seasons of very impressive pitching in the minors earned him a shot with the Yanks in July of 1950.

He was hit hard in his first appearance but when put into the rotation his numbers steadily improved and he won his first nine decisions. He finished that first season with a 9-1 mark and pitched the fourth and final game of the '50 World Series. He beat the Phils 5-2 with both Phillies' runs being unearned. He went 8 2/3 before giving way to Allie Reynolds for the final out. Coincidentally that out was the strike out of Stan Lopata mentioned in Lopata's entry day before yesterday. He was second in the AL Rookie of the Year voting (to Walt Dropo) despite pitching only half a season.

Ford, like so many players in that era, was called to military service and spent two years in the Army. When he rejoined the Yanks in 1953 he picked up where he left off and reeled off a career very worthy of his 1974 Hall of Fame induction. The highlights include:
  • 8-time AL All-Star (1954-1956, 1958-1961 & 1964)
  • ML Cy Young Award Winner (1961)
  • 1961 World Series MVP
  • 2-time AL ERA Leader (1956 & 1958)
  • 3-time AL Wins Leader (1955, 1961 & 1963)
  • 3-time AL Winning Percentage Leader (1956, 1961 & 1963)
  • 2-time AL Innings Pitched Leader (1961 & 1963)
  • AL Complete Games Leader (1955)
  • 2-time AL Shutouts Leader (1958 & 1960)
  • 15 Wins Seasons: 10 (1953-1956, 1959 & 1961-1965)
  • 20 Wins Seasons: 2 (1961 & 1963)
  • 25 Wins Seasons: 1 (1961)
  • 200 Innings Pitched Seasons: 11 (1953-1956, 1958, 1959 & 1961-1965)
  • 200 Strikeouts Seasons: 1 (1961)
  • Won six World Series with the New York Yankees (1950, 1953, 1956, 1958, 1961 & 1962)
  • All Time World Series Game Wins Leader (10)
  • Baseball Hall of Fame: Class of 1974

His bio on the Hall of Fame site reads as follows:
Edward 'Whitey' Ford was the big-game pitcher on the great Yankees teams of the 1950s and early '60s, earning him the moniker The Chairman of the Board. The wily southpaw's lifetime record of 236-106 gives him the best winning percentage (.690) of any 20th-century pitcher. He paced the American League in victories three times and in ERA and shutouts twice. The 1961 Cy Young Award winner still holds many World Series records, including 10 wins and 94 strikeouts, once pitching 33 consecutive scoreless innings in the Fall Classic.
Not much I can add to all that other than to say that I knew (and if I didn't my Dad reminded me) that watching Ford work was watching a master craftsman.

Plenty of Whitey Ford links for those interested:

I don't remember how much I spent on this card but I do know it was a bargain. It's about as nice as any of the non-graded cards I picked up for this set. It has just the slightest corner wear and the colors look as good as the day it came out of the pack. Plus, it's Whitey Ford at Yankee Stadium. I put a Yankee pin on my Dad's lapel just before they buried him. I wish now I had had a copy of this card to slip into his suit.

He sure liked the 'follow-through' pose didn't he?

Random cool pics from around the 'net.

Ford on the cover of Sports Illustrated in September, 1956

Saturday, January 11, 2014

#412 Stan Lopata

That crouch that Stan Lopata is in on this card's picture isn't just a random pose. Lopata used that stance to become a better hitter after some advice from legendary hitter Rogers Hornsby. The story as relayed to us in Lopata's obituary:

When a baseball legend like Rogers Hornsby gave a hitter advice, he'd be wise to take it.
Stan Lopata, something of a legend himself as a Phillies catcher in the '50s, was having problems at the plate in 1954 when he and outfielder Johnny Wyrostek ran into Hornsby during a road trip.
Referring to Lopata, Wyrostek asked Hornsby, "What do you think about this kid?"
The Hall of Fame infielder (.358 career batting average, 2,930 hits), said that he had seen Lopata on TV and that he missed the ball too many times.
"He said you should get a piece of the ball every time you swing the bat - not necessarily a base hit, but get a piece of it," Lopata said.
Stan took the advice to heart and worked on his stance, getting lower and lower, until he developed his famous crouch, and he concentrated on getting a piece of the ball.
As a result, Stan Lopata became one of the best power-hitting catchers in the National League in the mid-'50s.
And so it was that Lopata was able to emerge from behind Andy Semminick and Smokey Burgess to become the Phil's #1 catcher during the 1955 season. His time as a Phillie stretched from 1948 through 1958 but he had just a three year run as a starter. But he made the most of it. He made the NL All Star squads in '55 and '56. That '56 season was clearly his best as he had 32 homers and 95 RBI. Injuries marred his '57 season and he was back to having a reserve role in 1958.

Lopata, a native of the Detroit area, had originally signed with the Phils in 1946. That was following a military stint during World War II that saw him receive a Bronze Star and Purple Heart earned while serving in Marseilles, France. Once back home he played three seasons in the minors, got a short look in 1948 and then getting some significant time as a reserve in 1949 and 1950. That later edition of the Phils was the 'Whiz Kids' club that took the NL pennant. Lopata got one at bat in the Series against the Yanks. With two out in the ninth he struck out while pinch hitting for Robin Roberts in Game Four and thus ended the Series as the Yanks swept the Phils.

Lopata was in the minors for much of the next season but in '52 he was up to stay. The card-back notes that he was traded to the Braves in March of 1959. He played sparingly for the Braves for two seasons while mixing in some time back in the minors and retired after the 1960 season.

After his playing days Lopata worked for IBM in the Detroit area and then in the concrete business in Philadelphia. He died this past summer and his death reduced the number of living members of that '50 Whiz Kid club to four. Lopata's SABR bio is chock full of stories from his career. Interesting to note that he was the first catcher to wear glasses. The stadium lights bothered him with their glare so he adopted tinted glasses.

That's a Connie Mack Stadium shot on this card. Love the seafoam green frame with the red of the stadium and Lopata's uniform. This is one of my favorite cards in the set. And here are a couple of pix I found on the 'net that show his exaggerated crouch and his tinted glasses (which can be seen on his '57 Topps)..

Thursday, January 9, 2014

#369 Dick Tomanek

He was 6'1" and 175 so Dick Tomanek was called 'Bones'. Topps really had a great cartoon for the cardback:

Tomanek was a native of Avon Lake, Ohio and was signed by the Indians in 1950. Cleveland was just down the shoreline and Tomanek tells this story on Baseball Reference:
"My dad told a group of his friends in a bar that if I made it up to the Indians he would walk the twenty miles from our home in Avon Lake to Municipal Stadium to see me pitch, and he did it."
That debut came late in the 1953 season after Tomanek had spent three seasons in the Indians' system and one in the employ of Uncle Sam. It was worth the wait for both Tomanek and his father as the lefty put together a six hit complete game win over Detroit on September 25. 

Tomanek made the big club in 1954. He made his first appearance on April 17th when he was called upon in the first inning following a shelling of Indians starter Art Houtteman by Chicago. Tomanek was rushed into the game and in the second inning he had to be removed with a sore arm. This page from a book on Google gives the details. Tomanek didn't pitch again that season and spent the next two in the minors. 

Back with the Indians in '57 Tomanek had mixed results through the summer of '58 when he was traded to the Athletics as part of the deal that sent Roger Maris to Kansas City. He was more effective that year with the A's than he had been with the Indians but 1959 was another story. He pitched only 21 innings and had a long mid-season idle stretch (injured?) and was gone from baseball after spending a rocky year in the minors in 1960.

Tomanek went to work for B. F. Goodrich Chemical and stayed with them until he retired in 1990. He reportedly still resides in Avon Lake.

I found a Cleveland-centric card website maintained by Tomanek's nephew although it's been inactive for quite awhile. He does feature his uncle's cards on one of the pages.

Yes, that's Yankee Stadium.