Sunday, May 24, 2015

"The Rock" custom card gets a rehab


Being retired, holiday weekends don't mean the same thing to me that they did when I was on somebody else's clock.

When I was working, holiday weekends usually meant I had the time to work up a new custom card.

Now, I can work on my custom projects just about any time the notion strikes, but I still find myself gravitating to my to-do list on holidays.

This past Memorial Day was no exception.

My principal project for the weekend was re-habbing my 1955 Topps All-American custom card of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.

I originally created the card 7-8 years ago. Shortly thereafter, however, a mini disaster struck and I lost the computer files for three or four of my custom cards, including my '55 Rock.

These days, I have more backup for my custom card files. Some might suggest I have gone into overkill backup. I have a set of files on both my home and office computer hard drives, and I have complete sets on two different flash drives. 

Since I had already printed my archives copies of the card, I was able to recreate the file by scanning my card. That, however, didn't produce a truly first-rate result; the card now had a re-screened look. That might not have been readily apparent to the average person, but it nagged at me.

Surprisingly, my Dwayne Johnson '55 custom is not a card for which I have had a lot of requests from collectors and fans over the years, so there was never a great impetus for me to re-create the piece.

The other day I had occasion to do an internet search for images of Johnson in his Miami Hurricanes uniform and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the number of such images has grown a bit in recent years.

When I originally made my card about the only usable picture available to me was a shot of Johnson standing with his hands on hips . . . satisfactory, but not exceptional.

To re-do my card I chose a shot of Johnson in a celebratory pose that fits nicely into my cards' horizontal format. Shown here are the before and after photos.

While I was working on the back, I noticed a typographical error on my original card. In the first line I had omitted the word "a" between "earned" and "National". That's now corrected.


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.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Nen's debut homer helped clinch pennant

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. 

In 1963 Dick Nen had one of the most auspicious debuts in major league history . . . then faded into mediocrity.

Nen's start in pro ball was also auspicious. He was signed out of college at age 21 by the L.A. Dodgers in 1961 and assigned to  Reno in the Class C California League. Playing first base with the Silver Sox, Nen led the league with 34 doubles, 32 home runs, 144 RBIs, 315 total bases and a .625 slugging average.

He was second in the circuit with 102 walks and 121 runs scored. His 177 hits were third in the league and he was fourth with a .351 BA and 25 stolen bases.

Reno won the pennant by 15 games. Surprisingly, Nen did not win the MVP; that went to Reno shortstop Don Williams, who'd led the Cal League with a .363 BA but was otherwise statistically inferior to Nen in most offensive categories.

Nen was advanced all the way to the Pacific Coast League for 1962. At the AAA level he hit a modest .268 with little power for last place Spokane. He remained with the Indians for 1963 and the team nearly went from worst-to-first, winning the PCL North Division by 17 games before losing to Oklahoma City in the playoffs. Nen had upped his BA to .288.

With Los Angeles in a tight pennant race, Nen was called up by the Dodgers on the morning after the PCL season ended. He'd gone 1-for-4 in the Indians' loss to the 89ers.

He flew to St. Louis where he joined the Dodgers at their hotel just in tie to catch the team bus for Busch Stadium. 

Nobody had been hotter than St. Louis in the month of September. The Cards were seven games behind on Aug. 30 after they beat the Phillies to begin a phenomenal run in which they won 19 out of 20 games.

As the teams' final three-game series opened on Sept. 16, Los Angeles had a one-game lead. The Dodgers won the first two games and faced Bob Gibson on Sept.18. 

Gibby had a 1-5 lead as the eighth inning opened with Nen pinch-hitting. He lined out, but the next four Dodgers batters touched Gibson for three singles and a walk, scoring twice. Bobby Shantz came on in relief and was tagged for another run.

The Cardinals went out in order in the eighth. 

Ron Taylor, who had relieved Shantz the previous inning took the mound for the top of the ninth with the Cardinals holding on to a 4-5 lead. After Ken McMullen flied to second base, Nen homered on an 0-1 pitch. 

When first reported in The Sporting News, Harry Caray's call was reported as, "Here comes the pitch . . . " (deadly pause) "Oh my God, it's over the roof!" Caray later said that he never mentioned God in his report.

Nen's home run tied the game 5-5, and the Dodgers went on to win 6-5 in 13 innings. In sweeping St. Louis, the Dodgers took a four-game lead, sending the Cardinals into a tailspin (the lost eight of their final 10 games to finish six out)  and all but mathematically eliminating them from the NL pennant race.

Taking over at first base for Norm Larker, Nen grounded out in the 11th and was intentionally walked in the 13th. 

His dramatic homer was the only hit Nen got in 1963, and his only hit as a Dodger. In six more games, mostly in pinch-hit appearances, he was 0-for-7, ending the season at .125.

Nen was not placed on the Dodgers' World Series roster as Los Angeles swept the Yankees 4-0. 

For his role in clinching the pennant, the players voted him a $1,000 cash award from the World Series winners' share; quite a bump from his reported $7,000 salary.

Nen was returned to the PCL for the 1964 season. He hit .270 for third-place Spokane.

In the off-season, the Dodgers traded Nen to the Washington Senators. He opened the 1965 season back in the PCL, at Hawaii, but was called up in July and became the Senators' more-or-less regular first baseman until just before the 1968 season, when he was sold to the Cubs. Nen had batted .231 in three years with Washington, with a consistent six runs each season.

Back in the National League for '68, Nen pinch-hit for Chicago, occasionally platooning with Ernie Banks at first base. He hit just .181 with two runs in 81 games. At the end of the season he was sold back to the Senators.

Washington sent him to their AAA team at Buffalo for 1969. He spent virtually all of his final three pro seasons at Denver, save for a six-game stint with the Senators in mid-1970.

Nen had spent all or part of nine seasons in the minor leagues between 1961-72, eight of them at the AAA level. In that span he batted .291, averaging just under a dozen dingers per year.

At the major-league level he hit .224 in 367 games over six seasons (1963-70) with 21 home runs.

In its list of the "100 Greatest Home Runs of All Time," ESPN ranked Nen's homer #99.

Nen's baseball card legacy included appearances on a 1964 Topps Dodgers Rookie Stars card, and with the Senators on 1965-68 Topps cards. 

He has a legacy of another sort. His son Robb played in the major leagues 1993-2002 for the Rangers, Marlins and Giants.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Koufax knew K's, from both ends of bat

No doubt about it, Sandy Koufax knew strikeouts. In 12 major league seasons (1955-66) he threw 2,396 of them. That puts him at #42 all-time, #15 among left-handers. His career record is 9.3 K's per nine innings; good enough to lead the NL six times and the major leagues three times.

But Koufax also knew strikeouts from the other end of the bat.

In his rookie season of 1955, Koufax never went to bat without striking out. In his 12 games that year, Koufax was 0-for-12, with 12 K's. Those whiffs included six times caught looking, a missed bunt and a fouled bunt.

Moreover, the Dodgers' record in Koufax's dozen games in 1955 was 2-10. The only games Brooklyn won when Koufax pitched in 1955 were the complete-game two shutouts he threw. To be fair, as a bench-sitting bonus baby, Koufax was mostly used in '55 as a mop-up pitcher in games in which the decision was already determined.

It was seven games into his second season, June 3, 1956, before Koufax ever got on base or put wood to ball in a meaningful way. His former teammate Russ (The Mad Monk -- one of baseball's great nicknames) Meyer, then with the Cubs walked him in his first AB. Koufax also grounded out and was struck out looking by Meyer in that game, and walked again in the ninth off Vito Valentinetti. Koufax won the game 4-3 for his first victory of 1956.

Koufax's first major league hit came in his next game, June 8. He started in Cincinnati but was not in on the decision in a 4-6 Dodgers loss, Facing Johnny Klippstein, Koufax struck out in the third and in the fifth got a ground-ball single.

He got one more hit in 1956, off Willard Schmidt in St. Louis in his July 22 4-3 win over the Cardinals. That brought his career BA to .071.

0-for 1957
Once again in 1957, Koufax went hitless. In 26 at-bats over 34 games he had neither a hit nor a walk, though he did score one run. On Aug. 1 at Wrigley Field, Koufax reached first base on a throwing error, worked his way around on singles by Jim Gilliam and Carl Furillo and scored on a Gil Hodges home run. He won that game 12-3.

At that point in his career, his batting average was .032.

For the 1958-64 seasons, Koufax hit .090, between .064 and .122. He averaged just under 65 strikeouts per season. 

In 1958 he got his first extra-base hit, the first of nine doubles he'd rap in his career. The initial two-bagger came Aug. 7, again in Chicago, in his 3-1 win over the Cubs. Serving up the double was Marcelino Solis. 

Koufax never hit a triple. He had two home runs, both in Milwaukee. In 1962 he had a solo shot off Warren Spahn, and in 1963 he hit a three-run blast to take a 1-3 lead against Denny Lemaster.

In 1965, the reason(s) for which I've found no explanation, Koufax went nuts with the bat. He more than doubled his lifetime BA by hitting .177. It was second on his Cy Young seasons and the Dodgers won the World Series that year against Minnesota.

Koufax had not appeared in the 1955 or 1956 World Series against the Yankees. He was 0-for-2 against the White Sox in 1959 and 0-for-6 versus New York in 1963. He got his lone post-season at bat in the 1965 Series against the Twins, an RBI single off Jim Perry in Game 5. He was again hitless in the 1966 Classic versus the Orioles. Overall, in 19 at-bats in four World Series, Koufax hit .053 with one walk and eight strikeouts.

For his regular-season major league career, Koufax batted .097. He struck out 386 times in 776 at-bats, walking 43 times. 

Surprisingly, Koufax has only the fifth-lowest batting average among Hall of Fame pitchers, though those below him were all primarily relievers, with far fewer at-bats. The numbers . . . 

Pitcher                       AB   H   BA     SO
Tommy LaSorda        14    1   .071       4
Hoyt Wilhelm            432  38   .088   166   
Bruce Sutter             102    9   .088     50
Satchel Paige           124  12   .097     32 
Sandy Koufax           776  75   .097   386

As hapless as he generally was with a bat, Sandy Koufax was masterful with the ball. It was his pitching that earned him legions of fans, three Cy Young Awards, an MVP, three World's Champion rings and a pair of World Series MVPs. All that, and one of the best nicknames of his generation: The Left Hand of God.

It is one of baseball great misfortunes that arm troubles forced him to cut short his major league career at the age of 30.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

7 new "1963 Post" cereal cards created

The second segment of my current custom-card project to create new cards in the formats of the cereal-box issues of 1961-63 is now ready for presentation.

In my blog entry for April 24, I showed off my 1961 box-back creations. I jumped over 1962 for the time being to work on my 1963 cards.

Actually, I'm having a bit of a design issue with the 1962 baseball cards. That year Post presented the player names on the cards in a script font. I have thus far been unable to duplicate that script. If you have any ideas, I'd welcome them. Please email me at

For my initial try at recreating 1963 Post baseball cards, I chose to use the seven-card box-back format that was originally found on several family-size boxes of the cereals.

While Post included 200 players in its set, there were plenty of guys that didn't make the cut, so finding new subjects was not a problem. In fact, besides the seven players I put on my new cards, I have a list of nearly two dozen others -- rookies, veterans, and traded players -- that I could have picked. Some of them will certainly show up on future creations.

Here's the first look at the seven 1963 Post-style cards I recently completed. In most cases, it should go without saying, choices for inclusion were partially based on the availability of good color photos consistent with those used by the cereal company in 1963. 

Jim Bouton. The iconoclastic insider who scandalized the establishment by writing about what really went on with ballplayers in the 1960s was a fresh-faced sophomore on his way to a starring role on the Yankees' staff in 1963. 

Jim Umbricht. If Umbricht had been included by Post in its 1963 set, it would have been just about a year prior to his death from cancer. I've recently been reading back issues of The Sporting News from 1963-64 and was struck by the tragedy of Umbricht's untimely passing. I really wanted to use a photo of him in his home jersey (I love the smoking six-gun design), but I struck out in my search.

Lou Brock. The future Hall of Famer was a second-year stalwart with the Cubs in 1963. In researching the player bio, I was surprised to learn how quickly Brock developed as a player in college and the minors.

Duke Snider. Sure, Snider DID appear in the original 1963 Post set, but he was pictured with the Dodgers. There are surprisingly few good color photos of Duke as a Met.

Bo Belinsky. The handsome young hurler whom the sporting press loved to characterize as a Hollywood playboy was also a frequent subject in my reading of TSN. In 1963 his reputation was being made more off the field than on, despite a rookie-year no-hitter, so it's not surprising Post passed him over in his second big-league season.

Jake Gibbs. I'd never miss a chance to make a card of an Ole Miss alum, especially a two-sport collegiate star. Gibbs had nine years as a Yankees catcher, mostly backing up Elston Howard and Thurman Munson.

Bob Uecker. Creating a Uke card was the most challenging of this group. Color photos of him as a Milwaukee Brave are virtually non-existent. In fact, I get the impression that during his playing days he was usually reticent to have his photo taken. For my card I had to colorize a black-and-white shot, and superimpose the portrait on the background of Roberto Clemente's '63 Post card.

Though I mentioned there are many more 1963-format Post cereal cards that may see the light of day in future, I'm going too hold off working on those while I complete a set of 1963 Post baseball. 

Surprisingly, the list of players whom Post missed in '62 that have piqued my interest is really not very long. It does, however, include five Hall of Famers and one who should be,.

You can purchase these cards. You can obtain a copy of any of my 1963 Post-style custom cards for $12.50 each, postpaid, or $9.95 each for three or more. The complete seven-card box back is available for $14.50. 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.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

BP tragedy befell Danny Breeden

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. 

While playing Class A ball in 1964 an unimaginable tragedy befell future major leaguer Danny Breeden. 

The 22-year-old second-year pro catcher had struck up a friendship with 13-year-old Jerry Highfill while playing for Wenatchee (Wash.) in the Northwest League. Highfill was a shortstop on a local Babe Ruth League team and Breeden became his baseball mentor.

On July 30, the youngster had spent part of the afternoon at Breeden's home and then rode  to the

ballpark with him.

During batting practice, Highfill was shagging balls for the Chiefs, working behind the pitcher's screen, taking throws from the outfield to keep the BP pitcher supplied. He strayed to the third-base side of the screen to field a ball, with his back to home plate.

Breeden was taking his cuts and hit a screaming liner towards left field that struck Highfill squarely in the back of the head.

Players rushed to the fallen youngster, who managed to address several of them by name before he was rushed to the hospital, where he died a short time later.

Breeden had to be sedated and another two of his teammates were too grief-striken to play in that night's 10-0 loss to Lewiston.

Members of the Wenatchee club served as Highfill's pallbearers at his Aug. 2 funeral.

Breeden had been signed by the St. Louis Cardinals as an amateur free agent in 1963. After the season he was picked by the Cubs in the 1963 first-year player draft. The Cardinals bought him back after the tragic 1964 season.

He played four seasons at the upper levels of the Cardinals' minor league system before being traded to San Diego after the 1968 season.

Breeden appeared on a Topps "Padres Rookie Stars" card in the high-numbers of the 1969 set, but he never played in the majors for San Diego. Coincidentally, the card back mentions that he was optioned to Elmira in the Eastern League before the 1969 season began . . . but he also never played for Elmira. He opened the year at Class AAA Syracuse, the Yankees' International League club (probably on loan) where he was a teammate of Thurman Munson. 

On June 30 he was sold to the Cincinnati Reds, who assigned him to their American Association farm club at Indianapolis, then called him up for three games in late July to fill in when Johnny Bench was sidelined for 10 days. Breeden got a single off Gary Gentry in his first major league at-bat; it was his only hit with the Reds in eight at-bats (.125). 

Breeden showed up on his second (last card) Topps card in 1970, #36, Reds Rookie Stars, but he spent the entire 1970 season back at Indianapolis. After the season he was traded back to the Cubs.

He spent most of May and June with the Cubs, appearing in 25 games, including five with his younger brother, Hal. The rest of the year he played at Chicago's AAA team at Tacoma. It was another season at AAA in Wichita in 1972.

Just prior to the 1973 season, the Cubs sold Breeden back to the Padres. He split that year between Hawaii and Phoenix in the Pacific Coast League. It was his last year in pro ball.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

1956 Prize Frankies Indians checklist now at 7

The Prize Frankies Cleveland Indians card set was first listed in the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards in the mid-1980s.

Attributed to 1956, the checklist for the issue remained at one player -- Vic Wertz -- for nearly 30 years.

My recollection is that the set was included in the "big book" at the time that I traveled to Maryland to photograph the collection of rarities owned by Al Strumpf. The front and back photos of the Vic Wertz card that has been used in the catalog since that time has the hallmarks of a roll of film that I took that accidentally was partially exposed.

Here's the introduction to the set that was originally presented in the SCBC . . .

Though the backs of the cards say 24 Indians cards were issued, only one player has been seen -- and precious few of him. The 2-1/4" x 3-3/8" cards have a black-and-white photo on front with the player's name and number in black in the white border at bottom. Backs have an Indians logo and instructions to redeem complete sets of the cards for a pair of box seats. It is unlikely this alone accounts for the scarcity of the cards. More likely this card was made as a prototype for a promotion that never materialized.

That last sentence was supposition on my part, and was at least partially disproved at last year's National Sports Collectors Convention in Cleveland last year when three more Prize Frankies players' cards were exhibited: Al Smith, Bob Lemon and Jim Hegan.

Now, any notion that the Prize cards were not actually issued should be considered completely debunked as the result of three more players' cards having surfaced.

Collector Jason Lange made what I consider one of the deals of the year when he purchased three Prize cards on eBay on April 26 for $77. The report of his purchase adds to the checklist Bobby Avila, Mike Garcia and Don Mossi.

Given the great interest shown by Cleveland Indians collectors in recent years, I find it surprising that the trio sold for such a low price. While woefully outdated, the Standard Catalog has priced single cards at $180 in Very Good and $300 in Excellent for many years.
Lange categorizes the three cards he bought as VG-EX.

Jason said of his discovery, "I purchased the three cards from a seller who claimed they were part of an estate find. Looking at the seller's other items being sold at the same time, there were numerous housewares and silverware, etc., but the only other sports related items were a few Cleveland Browns items (including a vintage bobble head, pinback, armband, and mini football) and a Cleveland Indians vintage bobble head. The seller had no other sports related items, and especially no other cards, in this 'estate find.'  I conclude that the seller is not in the habit of selling baseball cards per se, unless they are part of  a larger sale of items from an estate that he/she may have purchased together for resale. 

Lange notes that the Don Mossi Prize card shares an image from a team-issued set of player portrait postcards issued in 1955. The Avila and Garcia photos are different, he said, and he could not comment on whether the Hegan, Smith and Lemon photos were shared with the postcard set.

"I don't know about you, but I'm excited!," Lange added. "My guess is that the full checklist of 24 will one day be known." 

That was always one of my goals as a card cataloger. 

Looking back on this issue, I can't recall why the set was cataloged as a 1956 issue. There's no redemption date on the card back, and Wertz played for Cleveland from 1954-58. The style of cap he wears on his card was current from 1954-57.  All of the currently known players in the set were teammates from 1954-57. 

Perhaps if the Prize Frankies checklist continues to move towards completion, a more definitive issue-date can be pinpointed.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Jameis Winston, Melvin Gordon drafted into my All-American custom set

The NFL draft is annually one of the highlights of my college football season. 

By this time of year, it's been too long since the last college bowl game. And, while I've greatly enjoyed the coverage of many schools' spring intersquad games, I was ready to see which players on the college teams I follow went where, when, and how the Packers and Steelers helped themselves.

The annual draft has become way too much of a television spectacle, but by recording the proceedings, I can fast-forward to the players and picks that I really care about.

After last season's bowl games, I decided that two of the nascent pros were definitely going to be added to my on-going 1955-style All-Americans custom card set. I did most of the prep work for new cards of Jameis Winston and Melvin Gordon. I only had to wait for draft night to get the information I needed to complete the cards' backs.

With that information finally available, I finished the cards and present them herewith.

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, mix/match. 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.