Saturday, March 28, 2015

1943 "fantasy baseball" auction funded $124 million war bond drive

Organized Baseball raised billions of dollars in
war bonds sales during World War II to
raise its patriotic profile.

            An unusual form of fantasy baseball was created during World War II when the “War Bonds League” was formed. Participants bid on players from the three New York major league teams and followed their on-field performance. Instead of winning money based on the players’ performance, however, the fantasy leaguers paid in more money for each base hit, pitcher’s win, etc.
            It was all a plan to sell war bonds.
            As I wrote on this blog on Feb. 2, Organized Baseball -- from Yankee Stadium to the Class E Twin Ports League; owners, players and clubhouse boys alike -- relied on the forbearance of the Federal government to stay alive during World War II.
To assure they retained positive public sentiment, there was no group more diligent in their efforts to financially support the U.S. war effort than professional baseball.
The United States did not finance World War II in the manner in which recent administrations have done, by deficit spending. WWII was largely funded on a pay-as-you-go system by selling Series E bonds to the public under the Treasury Department National Defense Savings Program.
The plan was brilliantly conceived to prevent rampant inflation during a period when full employment collided with rationing of even the most basic goods and services by taking money out of circulation.
Series E bonds were sold in denominations from $25 to $10,000. Buyers paid 75% of the bonds’ face value. They were redeemable in 10 years, paying only a modest 2.9% annual rate of return.
The government urged citizens to put 10% of their pay into war bonds, and the American people responded with patriotic fervor. About half of the population, more than 85 million people, bought $185.7 billion in war bonds at a time when the median household income in America was about $2,000.
The suggestion to sell war bonds by auctioning local ballplayers originated with John H. Callen, assistant administrator of the New York War Saving Staff of the Treasury Department.    The War Bonds League auction was conducted June 8, 1943, at a luncheon in the ballroom of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, sponsored by the Treasury Department and the New York and Brooklyn chapters of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
Dodgers outfielder Dixie Walker,
on this 1940 team-issued photo,
was also "The Peoples Cherce" in
the War Bonds League fantasy
auction, bringing $11 million.
The event was attended by some 1,500 businessmen, industrialists, bankers, etc., from Manhattan, the Bronx and Brooklyn, as well as officials of all three New York teams and National League President Ford Frick.
The principal auctioneer was former New York City Mayor Jimmy Walker. He was assisted by broadcasters Red Barber of the Dodgers and Mel Allen of the Yankees.
            The auction was broadcast live by New York radio station WJZ over the Blue Network, of the American Broadcasting System.
In a feature in the June 17, 1943, issue of The Sporting News, Harry Cross of the New York Herald-Tribune reported that the ballplayer auction resulted in bond sales pledges of $123,850,000, reportedly a new record for a one-day war bond sales event.
            Cross wrote, “Brooklyn money and Dodgers boosters dominated the unusual gathering. The unbridled enthusiasm of the Brooklyn War Bond bidders reflected the kind of aggressive interest which marks Ebbets Field fans.”
            The Brooklyn backers drove the price of six Dodgers players higher than that garnered by any of the Yankees or Giants. The highest bid was $11,250,000 for Bums’ outfielder Dixie Walker, followed closely by Arky Vaughan at $11,000,000. Those bids were more than double that of any other player in the auction.
            Bragging rights for Walker were purchased by the Brooklyn Club, a social organization in the borough, while Vaughan’s “buyer” was Esso Marketeers, the public relations and promotions arm of Standard Oil.
            The Sporting News published this list of the player auction results and the sponsors who won the bids.
BROOKLYN DODGERS -- $56,500,000
            Dixie Walker                Brooklyn Club                            11,250,000
            Arky Vaughan             Esso Marketeers                        11,000,000
            Dolph Camilli               Bowery Savings Bank                  5,000,000
            Billy Herman                C.J. Devine & Co. (leading Wall St. dealer in government securities)                                                                                                                   4,000,000
            Augie Galan                Dime Savings Bank                      4,000,000
            Buck Newsom             Borden Co. (the “Elsie” dairy company)                                                                                                                                                             3,750,000
            Albie Glossop              Bowery Savings Bank                  3,500,000
            Rube Melton                Socony-Vacuum (world’s third largest oil company)                                                                                                                                           3,000,000
            Freddie Fitzsimmons   John Cashmore (Brooklyn Borough President)                                                                                                                                                    3,000,000
            Mickey Owen              Brooklyn Junior Chamber of Commerce
            Joe Medwick               Kuhn, Loeb and Co. (investment banking firm)
            Whitlow Wyatt             J. P. Stevens and Co. (textile industry giant)
            Kirby Higbe                 Bonwit-Teller (upscale 5th Avenue department store)                                                                                                                                           1,500,000

NEW YORK YANKEES -- $17,300,000
            Joe Gordon                 National Bronx Savings                3,500,000
            Johnny Murphy           Roosevelt Savings, Brooklyn        3,300.000
            Bill Dickey                   Bronx “Syndicate” (group of fans from neighborhood around Yankee Stadium)                                                                                                    2,000,000
            Roy Weatherly Alexander’s Department Store (discount chain in metropolitan N.Y.)                                                                                        1,500,000
            Charlie Keller              Eastern Airlines                            1,250,000
            Johnny Lindell             Socony-Vacuum                          1,250,000
            Nick Etten                    J. P. Stevens and Co.                1,000,000
            Ernie Bonham             Eastern Women’s Headwear Assn. (millinery manufacturers trade group)                                                                                                            1,000,000
            Hank Borowy               Bonwit-Teller                                 750,000
            Frank Crosetti             American Woolen Co. (huge military materials contractor)                                                                                                                                     750,000
            George Stirnweiss       J. P. Stevens and Co.                    500,000
            Spud Chandler            General Outdoor Advertising (world’s largest marketer of billboards)                                                                                                                       500,000

NEW YORK GIANTS -- $15,050,000 
            Carl Hubbell                Esso Marketeers                          3,000,000
            Mel Ott                        4 for 3 Club (social club)              2,000,000
            Dick Bartell                  War Savings Staff                       2,000,000
            Babe Barna                 Irving Savings Bank                    1,500,000
            Ernie Lombardi            North River Savings                    1,500,000
            Sid Gordon                  International Business Machine   1,250,000
            Billy Jurges                  1st Boston Corp.                       1,000,000
            Bill Lohrman                Bonwit-Teller                             1,000,000
            Ace Adams                  Norman Liberman                        750,000
            Mickey Witek               Taxi Industry                              500,000
            Cliff Melton                  Socony-Vacuum                         350,000
            Buster Maynard           J. P. Stevens and Co.                 300,000

            In addition to the successful player surrogate purchases of $88,850,000, the underbidders and others at the luncheon pledged an additional $35,000,000.
           But the auction bidding was not the end of the fund-raising effort. The sponsor of each player pledged to buy additional bonds based on the on-field performance of their players from June 15 through the end of the 1943 season.
            Announced performance pledge amounts were:
                        Single              $2,500
                        Double             $5,000
                        Triple               $7,500
                        Home Run       $10,000
                        Pitcher’s win    $25,000 (later, $35,000)
                        Pitcher’s shutout         $50,000
            As an example of the performance payout, The Sporting News cited the Dodgers-Giants game on June 15, at which War Bonds League players brought in some $90,000 in bond pledges.
            Brooklyn lost that game at the Polo Grounds, 5-6. Dodgers players in the WBL had six of the team’s eight hits, all singles. Vaughan had three hits, Herman had two and Galan had one, worth $2,500 each ($15,000 total).
            For the Giants, participating players had nine of New York’s 11 hits. Bartell, Witek, Melton and Lombardi had singles. Lombardi also chipped in a double. Ott doubled and homered and Jurges and Melton each homered, bringing the position players’ count to $50,000 in pledges. Ace Adams got the win ($25,000).
            More casual fans of the players were also welcomed to buy bonds with points credited to that player’s “team.”
            When the season was over, $7,325,000 in war bonds had been sold based on on-field performance. Dixie Walker was again the top earner, with $257,000 in sales attributed to his game play.
            In all, the three New York teams combined to account for nearly a billion dollars in bond sales -- $947,300,000 – during the 1943 season.

P.S. An interesting side note published in TSN said that the sponsor of the June 8 auction lunch, Benrus Watch Co., paid $2,000 to host of the event. The company invited all New York baseball writers to a pre-lunch meeting. Only a few attended . . . and each received a $100 watch.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Fashion-setter Southworth was decorated hero

Billy Southworth, Jr., (right), shown here with Bob Hope,
is often cited as 
popularizing the trend of U.S. pilots
wearing major league baseball caps in WWII.

Uncommon commons: In more than 30 years in sportscards publishing I have thrown hundreds of notes into files about the players – usually non-star players – who made up the majority of the baseball and football cards I collected as a kid. Today, I keep adding to those files as I peruse microfilms ofThe Sporting News from the 1880s through the 1960s. I found these tidbits brought some life to the player pictures on those cards. I figure that if I enjoyed them, you might too. 

In my blog posting of Oct. 1, 2014, I detailed some instances of the popularity of major league baseball caps with American aviators in World War II. (I can wait here if you want to go back and read that.)

The column mentioned that the oft-cited trend setter for that fashion was Army bomber pilot Billy Southworth, Jr., former St. Louis Cardinals minor leaguer and son of Cards' manager Billy Southworth, Sr.

The younger Southworth had played in the Cardinals' farm system as an outfielder for six different Redbird minor league teams. He had started in Class D ball in 1936, but by mid-1939 had gotten no higher than Class B ball, where he was named MVP of the Canadian-American League, batting .342 with 15 home runs. He was purchased by Toronto in the International League, the top rung of the Philadelphia Athletics' minor league ladder, for 1940, batting .280 for the season, but with little power.

With American involvement in World War II war looming on the horizon, Southworth enlisted in the U.S. Army as a flight cadet on Dec. 20, 1940. He was among the first pro ball players to enlist in the war.

Southworth's (center) first B-17 was named "Bad Check"
 because "it always came back."

You can find a great biography of Southworth's baseball and military career at:

Let me pick out a few items that I found of special interest. 

Southworth initially flew a B-17F Flying Fortress named Bad Check (because it always came back). His Cardinals cap must have proven lucky because in 25 bombing missions over Occupied France and Germany circa 1943, not a single member of his crews ever earned a Purple Heart. Despite the craft having been shot up by Nazi fighter planes and anti-aircraft shrapnel on several occasions, the Bad Check's crew never received a scratch.

Southworth also piloted "Winning Run," with its cardinal
 nose art. The ship "always came home" from bombing runs.

Southworth completed his combat tour in another B-17, named Winning Run (because it always came home). As a combat pilot he'd earned the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters, all before the age of 27.

After returning to the U.S. in late 1944, he began flying the new B-29 Superfortress. He was promoted to Lt. Col. and deputy commander of a new task force of the 2nd Air Corps.

On Feb. 15, 1945, Southworth was piloting a B-29 out of New York when engine trouble developed and he overshot the runway at LaGuardia Field. He crashed into Flushing Bay and was killed; five of his crew survived.

You might think that having never played major league baseball, Southworth didn't have a baseball  card. But you'd be wrong. 

In the 1922 American Caramel Co. card set known as E-121, Billy appears in a miniature Boston Braves uniform on his father's card. He was four or five years old when the photo was taken.

Billy was often photographed with his father. The last time the two were together was on Nov. 25, 1944, when they attended the Michigan-Ohio State football game. Young Southworth had attended OSU.
Young Billy had dashing movie star good looks and, indeed,
had been promised a Hollywood screen test after the war.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Custom creation: 41PB Rizzuto rookie card

Yesterday I presented my 1940 Play Ball-style minor league cards of Pee Wee Reese and Phil Rizzuto.

Today I'm showing my 1941 Play Ball Phil Rizzuto rookie card. While Reese was included in the original 1941 Play Ball set, Rizzuto's only card in 1941 was in the Double Play set.

By modifying the cap worn by Rizzuto in the photo I used for the 1940-format card, colorizing the portrait and placing it on a modified '41PB background (Johnny Cooney), I've done what I could to recreate a 1941 Play Ball rookie card for the Scooter.

You can purchase this card. You can obtain a copy of this (or any of my custom cards) for $12.50 each, postpaid, or $9.95 each for three or more. E-mail me at for ordering details. Illustrated lists of all my available custom baseball, football and non-sports cards can be found on my blog posts of March 18, 2015.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Newest custom card creations: 1940 Play Ball-style Reese, Rizzuto

My most recent custom baseball card creations are from my "alternate reality" collection.

In 1939-41 Gum Inc. did not include minor league player cards in their baseball issues. Beginning with a 1940-style Lou Novikoff L.A. Angels card (featured on this blog on June 10, 2014), I broke that convention.

Now I've added two more minor league cards in that 1940 format: Pee Wee Reese with the Louisville Colonels and Phil Rizzuto with the Kansas City Blues.

I did so because . . . well, because I found a couple of great photos of those Hall of Fame shortstops in their minor league days. And sometimes a great photo is reason enough to create a custom card, even if it requires stepping away from what was/is baseball card reality.

Since there's little I could tell you about Reese and Rizzuto, I'll just present my new cards for your enjoyment.

And tease by telling you to watch this space tomorrow for a 1941-style Phil Rizzuto Play Ball custom.

You can purchase these cards. You can obtain a copy of these (or any of my custom cards) for $12.50 each, postpaid, or $9.95 each for three or more. E-mail me at for ordering details. Illustrated lists of all my available custom baseball, football and non-sports cards can be found on my blog posts of March 18, 2015.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Pitch count killed Von Hoff's no-hitter

Uncommon commons: In more than 30 years in sportscards publishing I have thrown hundreds of notes into files about the players – usually non-star players – who made up the majority of the baseball and football cards I collected as a kid. Today, I keep adding to those files as I peruse microfilms of The Sporting News from the 1880s through the 1960s. I found these tidbits brought some life to the player pictures on those cards. I figure that if I enjoyed them, you might too. 

There's nothing unique about this story of a pitcher who was pulled from the mound late in his no-hitter bid. I'm just publishing it because I can.

On July 26, 1965 Bruce Von Hoff of the Cocoa Astros (Class A Florida State League) had a no-hitter going into the ninth inning against the Miami Marlins when he was taken out by manager Billy Goodman, leading 3-0.

Per the policy set by general manager Paul Richards of the parent Houston Astros, Von Hoff had reached the maximum pitch count of 110 set for minor league pitchers in the organization.

Joe Clement was brought on in relief, gave up a hit, then retired the side.

Perhaps as a make-good, Von Hoff was brought up to the Astrodome in the September call-ups. I don't know that his pitching record that season (6-13) qualified him as a prospect worth looking at at the major league level.

Von Hoff had been signed as a 20-year-old bonus free agent by the Giants in 1964, out of Northern Illinois University. Groomed as a reliever, he was 1-1 with a 3.44 ERA in Class A and AA ball.

In November, 1964, the Astros picked Von Hoff under the old first-year-player draft system then in operation in yet another futile attempt by the owners to hold down bonuses.

The Houston chain moved Von Hoff out of the bullpen and put him in the rotation.

While his minor-league record in 1965 wasn't stellar, realistically he had little support. Von Hoff had an ERA of just 2.53 for Cocoa. The C-Astros, however, were arguably the worst team in the league. They finished the season in last place, 32-1/2 games out. As a team they batted only .192 for the season, and their 1,199 strikeouts were nearly 20% worse than the runner-up.

For whatever reason, Von Hoff did get the call to Houston when the rosters expanded. The Astros had been firmly in ninth place for two months, ahead only of the Mets.

Von Hoff appeared in three games in the 'Dome, trotted out to the mound for an inning's work each in 1-7, 8-19 and 2-5 losses.

In truth, he did OK in two of those games. Retiring the Braves and Cardinals with no hits or walks in closing out those games. He was, however, shelled by St. Louis in between. He was called on in the seventh with the Cards ahead 13-2. He gave up three singles and walked two for three earned runs before getting out of the inning. His rookie year in the majors showed him 0-0 with an ERA of 9.00.

Von Hoff went to the Florida Instructional League in the off-season where he was 0-5. He spent the entire 1966 season in the minors -- where he got his no-hitter! On Aug. 10, pitching for the Durham Bulls in the Carolina League, Von Hoff no-hit Rocky Mount and won 5-0. He was 9-4 with a 2.85 ERA in Class A, but was 0-4 with an ERA well over 9.00 at AA and AAA that season.

Splitting time again between AAA Oklahoma City and AA Amarillo in 1967, Von Hoff was 4-6 with an ERA of 4.32 when he was again brought up to Houston in mid-August, with the Astros in last place in the NL.

This time the big club used him as a starter and he opened 10 games. He figured in only three decisions, all losses, with an ERA of 5.19.

By the time Von Hoff's only mainstream baseball card came out in the 1968 Topps set, his major-league career was behind him.

He played three more years in the minors. He was 0-5 for Dallas-Ft. Worth (AA Houston) in 1968, 6-3 with Asheville (AA Cincinnati) in 1969 and 4-8 in 1970 with St. Petersburg and Arkansas (A, AA St. Louis). He left pro ball then at the age of 26.

Overall, in his seven minor league seasons, Von Hoff had a 30-44 record and 3.96 ERA.

He died in Florida in 2012 at the age of 68. In retirement in Gulfport, Fla., he had founded an after-school program for kids at his church, coached youth sports teams and worked with the elderly. 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Badgers Ball added to my '55AA customs

If you follow my blog regularly, you know I've recently been busy with custom cards in the format of the 1955 Topps All-American college football set.

My latest is a tribute to one of the Wisconsin Badgers' finest running backs, Montee Ball.

While he hasn't (yet) wowed the NFL in the same way he did the NCAA, it's still early in his pro career and there may be bigger things coming for him. Even if he never played another down in the NFL, however, his stature as one of the premier running backs in college ranks in the early 2010s earned him a spot on my checklist.

Where was Penn State's
 respect for Montee Ball?

The incident of Aaron's 200th hit going unmentioned in the ballpark that I detailed on this blog on Feb. 26 brings to mind a similar situation I encountered while in attendance at the Wisconsin-Penn State game on Nov. 24, 2012.

The Nittany Lions were hosting Wisconsin in the final game of the season. Badgers running back Montee Ball entered the game tied for the NCAA FBS major college record in career rushing touchdowns scored.

In the first quarter Ball broke the record with a 17-yard run; his 79th career TD. 

I waited in vain for the stadium announcement of Ball's feat. It never came; no announcement, no message on the score board, nothing. 

I'm sure that many of the fans were made aware of the accomplishment via their smart phones, tablets, etc., but I thought it was bush for Penn State to go mum on the subject.

About all I can figure is that the school didn't want to embarrass its defense by making public note that Ball had achieved his record on their watch.

You can purchase this card. You can obtain a copy of this (or any of my custom cards) for $12.50 each, postpaid, or $9.95 each for three or more. E-mail me at for ordering details. Illustrated lists of all my available custom baseball, football and non-sports cards can be found on my blog posts of Jan. 18, 2015.