Sunday, July 20, 2014

Where's Dick Bartell's collection?

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.

As a collector, you have to wonder what became of the baseball memorabilia collection of former shortstop Dick Bartell, who played 18 years in the major leagues between 1927-46.

In the Jan. 30, 1941, issue of The Sporting News, an un-bylined article ran under the headline, “Bartell’s B.B. Museum”.

It’s reproduced here in its entirely.

            SAN FRANCISCO, Cal.—Next to the reliquary at Cooperstown, N.Y., Dick Bartell, shortstop of the Detroit Tigers, is believed to have the most varied museum of baseball trophies at his home in Alameda.
            The Bartell household is equipped with a private den for Dick and a rumpus room in the basement for guests. The walls and shelves are adorned with a collection of autographed pictures of big leaguers, bats that won World’s Series and baseballs that made many historical outs. He even has sound movies of critical series in the majors to entertain guests. Bartell saves everything, like a fussy housewife who collects pins and bits of string, and as a result, if he were commercial-minded, he could turn his home into a museum and charge the public 25 cents admission.
            Instead Dick takes pride in showing his souvenirs and frequently entertains his friends and visiting notables there.

Fred Stein has authored a comprehensive baseball biography of Bartell for the SABR biography project. You can find it at . . . .

Friday, July 18, 2014

Custom completes Gorman Thomas' "Topps" run

In 1977, when Gorman Thomas wasn't in the major leagues, he had a Topps card.

In 1978, when Thomas was in the majors, he didn't have a Topps card.

 I corrected that situation with my latest custom card, a 1978-style Gorman Thomas.

After batting just .188 in his first two full seasons with Milwaukee, the Brewers sent him down to Spokane (Pacific Coast League) for the entire 1977 season. He regained his batting form out west, hitting .322 with 41 doubles, 36 home runs (both second-best in the league) and 114 RBI (third-best).

On Oct. 25, 1977, the Brewers sent Thomas to the Texas Rangers as the player to be named later in an August deal that sent Ed Kirkpatrick to Milwaukee. Before spring training opened in 1978, the Brewers bought Thomas back from Texas.

There's no doubt Gorman was my all-time favorite Brewer. He was also my daughter's first baseball hero. On her 5th birthday in 1984 we went to Milwaukee County Stadium for a game during Thomas' first visit back to Milwaukee after he had been traded to the Indians. We even snagged a batting practice foul ball from our seats down past the visitors' dugout near field level.

Gorman was a big favorite in Milwaukee because of his blue-collar image and his big home runs. (We tended to quickly forget the many strikeouts.)

This is my third Gorman Thomas custom card. On March 15, 2011, I presented by custom Gorman Thomas "rookie" card in 1972 format. I showed you a 1973-style card on May 15, 2011.

At this point I expect this to be my last Gorman Thomas custom card . . . but I never say never.

I do have one more 1978-style Brewers card in the works; you can probably guess who that it. I should be posting it in a couple of days.

You can purchase this card. You can obtain a copy of this custom card for $12.50, postpaid. E-mail me at for ordering details. Illustrated lists of all available custom baseball and football cards can be found on my blog post of May 24.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Pop Schriver's Monumental catch

Pop Schriver can be found in at least five poses
in the 1887-1890 Old Judge cigarette cards.
 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.

I don’t know where baseball historians currently stand on who was the first to catch a baseball thrown from the top of the Washington Monument. Yesterday in this space I presented details of Senators catcher Gabby Street’s successful attainment of that feat.

His grab is certainly the most famous, but over the years I’ve read of other, earlier successes with the same stunt.

In its Feb. 29, 1940, issue, The Sporting News solicited information on earlier attempts in a boxed item headlined “The Sporting News / ? Wants to Know ?”

That article mentioned a Washington Post article of Aug. 26, 1894, that said Chicago catcher William Schriver performed the feat. Like Street’s catch, the Post reported that it was a sporting proposition between Colts manager Pop Anson and H.P. Burney, chief clerk of Washington’s Arlington hotel.

Schriver's catch was featured in the
1963 GAD Fun Cards baseball
trivia card set.
According to the newspaper, the witnesses to Schriver’s catch included, besides the wagering parties, Clark Griffith, president of the Washington Nationals, the hotel’s manager, Frank Bennett, and Schriver’s teammates Parrott, Decker, Stratton and Hutchinson.

The Sporting News in 1940 speculated that the reporter who “covered” the story was not actually in attendance.

The paper quoted Griffith as substantiating that suspicion, saying, “I dropped three balls. Only one of the three was reached by Schriver and he dropped it. The first man ever to catch a ball from the Washington monument was Gabby Street.”

TSN speculated that those actually present at Schriver’s attempt “kept their tongues in their cheeks in order to give Chicago some welcome advertising.”

The account of Street’s catch in the Aug. 21, 1908, Washington Evening Star, mentioned that earlier attempts – all unsuccessful – had been made by Paul Hines, Charley Snyder and Buck Ewing. Schriver was not mentioned in that piece.

In the 1940 TSN, the article concluded, “The evidence of other besides Griffith, who were present at the time Schriver is said to have made the catch, would help to solve the puzzle. If there are any of them who read The Sporting News, or anyone who knows them, The Sporting News would like to get their versions.”

Sprinz’ blimp drop went badly

I’m also unsure of what the accepted record for a baseball caught from a great height might be. I did read of an attempt from 800 feet that went awry.

At the New York World’s Fair on July 3, 1939, San Francisco Seals catcher Joe Sprinz attempted to catch a ball dropped from a blimp 800 feet in the air.

Prinz caught the ball, but the force of the impact drove his catcher’s mitt into his face breaking his jaw, cutting his lips and knocking out five teeth.
Earlier that year at the Golden Gate International Exposition, Sprinz had caught a ball dropped from the Tower of the Sun building. He had only been able to snag one of six balls dropped from the height of 437 feet. It was estimated the balls dropped at a speed of 100 miles per hour.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Turkey Red cabinet immortalizes Street's feat

The Washington Monument, from which
Gabby Street caught a baseball in 1908,
can be seen at far left on Street's
1910-11 Turkey Red cabinet card.
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.

Like most baseball fans, I’d long ago heard of Washington Senators catcher Gabby Street’s feat of catching a baseball thrown from the top of the Washington Monument on Aug. 21, 1908.

I’ve mentioned the event once before in this venue, on Feb 9, 2014, when I wrote of a less lofty recreation of the ball-drop Street accomplished 37 years later.

Beyond knowing that he had been successful in catching a couple of balls in 1908, I don’t recall ever hearing the details.

I found a first-hand account in an interview Street gave to New York Daily Mirror sports writer Bob Considine that was republished in the Oct. 12, 1944, issue of The Sporting News.

According to the Considine article, the idea for the feat originated—as such things often do—over drinks at the National Press Club. Washington Post society editor Preston Gibson repeatedly insisted that Street could, indeed, catch a ball thrown from atop the highest point in the nation’s Capital. He backed his belief with a number of not insignificant wagers with others among the ink-stained wretches around the bar.

On the appointed day, Gibson schlepped 13 baseballs to the top of the 555-foot obelisk, where a 20-foot long wooden trough had been erected. The newspaperman let the first few balls roll down the trough, but Street lost them in the sun—potentially a fatal failing.

Moving over to the shady side of the Monument, Street missed on a couple more. He then telephoned Gibson to abandon the trough and throw the balls out further so they would not be blown into the side of the structure.

Street said that it had been his original intention to catch the balls waist-high, figuring that the worst that could happen would be a broken wrist or arm.

When the strain of looking that high into the air got to be too much, Street enlisted Washington shortstop George McBride to spot the falling baseballs for him. Street didn’t look up until the pellets were about 200 feet above him.

Under that system, Street reported, “I caught the fourth one I tried for, and the thirteenth and last one Gibson threw.

“Caught both of them right over my head,” Street recalled. “They’d have gone right through my head if I had missed them. Sure, they were ‘heavy,’ but not too heavy. I just used my regular mitt—no sponge or anything.

“Gibson told me later that each catch I made sounded like a .38 revolver going off, even way up there at the top of the monument.”

Street reckoned that Gibson collected a lot of money from his bar bets. “I know he paid me $500,” he said.

Street reported that one of the spectators offered to buy the first ball he caught for another $500. “But I hung on to it for years and finally turned it over to the American Legion in Joplin, where I live, and they raffled it off in a war bond rally that brought $45,500.”

Next time we’ll look at claims that others made successful catches of balls throw from the Washington Monument before Street’s feat.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Rehabilitating my Bobby Kennedy custom

The other day (July 4) I mentioned my ongoing process of "rehabilitating" some of my earlier custom card creations to take advantage of a better photo or my progress along the learning curve.

Today I undertook a new version of one of my more popular 1955 All-American-style football cards, Bobby Kennedy.

The Kennedy brothers -- Joe, John, Bobby and Ted -- all played at Harvard and I have created cards for each of them. I was hampered in that process by a dearth of decent photos of the boys in Crimson uniform.

I was spurred to re-do my Bobby Kennedy card while filling an order for a JFK card.

My Bobby Kennedy card was one of a handful of card images that I lost some years ago when a floppy disc (I told you it was some years ago!) failed. I've made do since then with an image created by scanning one of the actual cards. That's not a great solution.

Too, I never felt that the picture of RFK on my card was up to par. It almost doesn't look like the Kennedy scion who was so familiar to us in the 1960s. I spent some time scouring the internet for a replacement and found a photo that is a considerable improvement, though not ideal. Maybe someday the perfect photo will come my way and I'll revisit the project once again.

As always, if you have one of my earlier versions of the RFK card, you can return it to me to be replaced with the new version. You can send it to me at P.O. Box 8, Iola, WI 54945.

You can purchase this card. You can obtain a copy of this custom card for $12.50, postpaid. E-mail me at for ordering details. Illustrated lists of all available custom baseball and football cards can be found on my blog post of May 24.

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Bad News Bees, Part 2b, Harl Maggert

Caught red-handed taking bribe money

(Part 1 of this series, detailing the involvement of Gene Dale in the 1919 Pacific Coast League gambling scandal, was presented here on June 14-15. An introduction that will help you pick up the story was presented on those days.)

(Continued from yesterday)

Maggert appears in the Zeenuts candy cards of Pacific
Coast League players in 1911, 1913-17 and 1920.
Harl Maggert

Maggert spent the 1913-17 seasons with the Los Angeles Angels, generally playing center field and batting lead-off. He returned to the P.C.L. with a flourish, hitting .316 in 1913, second-best among players in more than 100 games. He either led the league or was tied in games played, runs scored and triples. His 18 home runs and 89 stolen bases were each second-best in the circuit. He was fourth in hits and doubles. His fielding was in the top half of the class. Despite Maggert’s stats, the Seraphs finished fifth in the six-team league.

In 1914 the Angels came in second though Maggert’s personal numbers were down in most categories. He still led the league with 127 runs, and was among the top six in games, hits and three-baggers. Batting .288, he fielded among the top 10.

Maggert rebounded to break the .300 batting barrier in 1915 (.307), leading the league with 14 triples and 147 runs plated. He was tied for third with 55 steals, was fourth-best in games and at-bats, tied for fifth with a dozen home runs and was ninth with 226 hits. Maggert also led the league’s outfielders with 24 errors, his fielding average the worst among outfielders in more than 75 games. The Angels finished third that season.

The 1916 season was again fairly undistinguished for Maggert, though the Angels copped the pennant that year. Batting .274, Maggert cracked the top 10 lists in only two categories. His 42 stolen bases were fourth, and he had the seventh-best fielding average for outfielders in more than 150 games.

The Angels dropped back to second place in 1917, and Maggert’s stats dropped in every category. He hit just .256. Maggert suffered from sore knees much of the season and also from a suspension by manager Frank Chance, who fined him and set him down for beating up the club’s trainer.

By the time the 1918 season rolled around, ballplayers were getting mighty scarce in the P.C.L., as in other pro leagues. Many of the players who were not volunteers or draftees into the armed forces for World War I had taken war-industry jobs either to keep out of Uncle Sam’s uniform or for the high pay, Maggert, at 35, was above draft age. He was sold to San Francisco in early April, just prior to the opening of the season. Los Angeles felt it could afford to let Maggert go as they had just signed 19-year major league veteran and future Hall of Famer Sam Crawford.

Again, The Sporting News was unenthusiastic. “Harl Maggert is not likely to be of much use to San Francisco,” the paper commented. “He has a bad knee, too susceptible to injury and the deal for him was just so much energy and money wasted.”

Maggert had no problems playing out the season with the Seals in 1918, but the season was cut short due to the war, ending in mid-July. His .247 batting average was the lowest in Maggert’s pro career since his debut season, though he did manage to steal 19 bases in 86 games. Fielding records were not released by the league for the war-shortened 1918 season.

With the P.C.L. season on hiatus, Maggert played semi-pro ball. Just prior to the opening of the 1919 season he was traded by San Francisco to Salt Lake City for third baseman Karl Crandall.

The Sporting News finally gave Maggert a positive review. S.L.C. baseball beat writer Walter Bratz said Maggert was “for years one of the best outfielders in the league. He has no superiors at fly chasing, and until last season he always hit well and was a demon on the bases. But an injured leg handicapped him in 1918 and he did not show his old-time class. His leg is bothering him no more and he looks to be as good as of old,” Bratz concluded.

Maggert rebounded in all offensive categories in 1919. He hit .274 and again led the league with 127 runs scored. He was tied for fifth with 37 doubles and fielded in the top half of the league’s outfielders.

While Maggert hit .274 against the league, he batted only .213 for the season against Vernon. When the teams first met in April in Utah, Maggert hit .263 as the Bees took three of the five games in the series.

In an eight-game set at Vernon in early July, Maggert hit just .176, though Salt Lake won five and tied one of the games. It is unlikely that Maggert and the Bees were trying to throw the pennant to Vernon at that point in the season. With more than two months remaining, Vernon was in second place and S.L.C. was still in the race, in fourth.

By mid-September the Bees had moved up to third place, less than 10 games behind Vernon and Los Angeles, who were tied for the league lead. In home-and-home series with Vernon between Sept. 16-28, the Bees had plenty of opportunity to shape their own destiny, especially after winning the first two games in Salt Lake City. 

Whether or not those first two games were on the square will never be known. They may have been intended as losses but won by luck or design. Maggert hit .333 with a triple in those contests. In the remainder of the games at hone against the Tigers, the Bees were 1-4; Maggert hit .227. At some point, however, Maggert and a few teammates decided to take the sure-thing money offered by Borton as opposed to taking a chance on winning the pennant with its attendant bonus pool promised by the local fans.

The series moved to Vernon on Sept. 23 for six games. The Bees won the opener, then lost the next five. Maggert was 4-for-24 (.167) with a double and an error in Vernon.
When the Bees and Tigers concluded their season series, Salt Lake City was 13-1/2 games out, but retained their hold on third place. Vernon and Los Angeles met in a season-ending series with the Tigers down by two and a half games. They put a hurt on the Angels in the final games of the season, however, splitting an Oct 1 doubleheader, then sweeping the final five games to win the pennant and a $10,000 bonus offered by their fans. The Vernon players also split an $8,000 winners’ share for beating St. Paul in the “Little World Series.” For their efforts, Maggert, Dale and Rumler got an under-the-table taste of the winnings.

There is evidence that Borton, abetting Nate Raymond and blackballed major leaguer Hal Chase, continued to fix games in the Pacific Coast League through the 1920 season. Whether or not Maggert was a party to the thrown games is unknown.

The record shows Maggert, at age 37, was having one of the best seasons of his career in 1920 prior to his banishment. Unofficial figures – the official P.C.L. stats were purged of the accomplishments of Maggert and other crooked ballplayers – show Maggert hit .370 in 115 games. Teammate Earl Sheeley led the league that season with a .371 mark.

With Maggert and Rumler removed from the team, Salt Lake City fell from first place on July 18 to fifth by the end of the season.

Little record of Maggert is found after he was banned from Organized Baseball. He went into the coal business in the L.A. area with his father-in-law, for whom he had worked in the off-seasons, and died in Fresno, Calif., just short of his 80th birthday in 1963.

Second-generation Maggert

also made the major leagues

Eighteen years after his father was blacklisted by Organized Baseball, Harl Warren Maggert, made it briefly to the major leagues.

The younger Maggert spent the 1938 season with Boston in the National League. Coincidentally, during the time when Maggert was with Boston, the team was known as the Bees. He’d earned the promotion after batting .339 with 30 homers in the Piedmont League in 1936 and .344 with 23 home runs in 1937.

Playing a little bit in the outfield and around third base, Maggert led the N.L. that season with 43 at-bats as a pinch-hitter, producing the desired result 10 times (a pinch-hit average of .233). Overall he batted .281 in 66 games. Three of his 25 major league hits were doubles and three were home runs. He had 19 RBIs, walked 10 times and struck out 20 times.

The younger Maggert played five seasons in the minors between 1933-39.

(Editor’s Note: This series on the disgraced Salt Lake City Bees of 1919 will conclude next month with Bill Rumler’s story, which somebody really should make into a movie.)