Saturday, February 13, 2016

Exhibition performance was Bob Lee's big break

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.

For eight seasons Bob Lee had pitched his way up the Pittsburgh Pirates' minor league ladder. The 6'3", 225-pound righthander (his nicknames included "Horse," "Moose" and "Man Mountain") had signed as a free agent out of Bellflower High School in California in 1956.

After just one game against big league competition in 1963, however, his ticket was punched for the major leagues . . . though not with Pittsburgh. Two years later he was on the mound in the All-Star Game.

Lee had pitched for the Pirates' organization in virtually every Class C minor league west of the Mississippi. While he usually struck out about one batter per inning, he also allowed a lot of hits and gave up more than a few walks. From 1956-1962 he had an ERA of 4.28 and never had a winning season.

In 1960 he was converted to a relief pitcher and moved up to Class A ball in Savannah. His record was only 3-5 but his ERA dropped to 2.23. He made it up to AAA with the Pirates' International League team at Columbus in 1961, but spent most the year in Class A Asheville and had a 6-6 season.

Lee stuck in AAA for 1962, with Dallas-Ft. Worth in the American Association. He was 2-10 with an ERA of 4.68.

Something clicked for Lee in 1963, though. Back in Class A with Batavia he was returned to a starter's role and led the New York-Pennsylvania League with a 20-2 record and an ERA of 1.70. He struck out 240 (third-best) in 85 innings, walking 47.

At the end of July, Lee had a 15-2 record and had won 14 straight decisions when Pittsburgh called on him to start an exhibition game in Cleveland on Aug.1. On Aug. 15 he extended his win streak to 15 straight with a 10-inning 7-4 win, striking out 13.

Before a crowd of 34,487 in cavernous Municipal Stadium, Lee pitched a complete-game, winning 7-1 on six hits. He wowed the scouts by striking out 16 Indians while walking just two. He contributed two doubles with the bat.

"I was lucky with such a performance against a big league team," Lee told Pittsburgh baseball writer Les Biederman in the Aug. 17, 1963, Sporting News. "I had a good fastball and depended on it a great deal. My curve wasn't as good as it has been and I had trouble with my change-up, a fork ball."

Lee had driven himself the 225 miles between Batavia and Cleveland for the exhibition game, and made the drive back right after the game. After toiling so long in the low minors, he must have felt pretty good on the drive back.

In the Sept. 28, 1963, issue, The Sporting News reported that Lee had been purchased "conditionally" by the L.A. Angels from Batavia. The Angels had some familiarity with Lee's mound work. They had a partial working agreement with the Dallas-Ft. Worth Rangers in 1962 when Lee pitched there. Whatever the conditions of the sale were, they must have been met because Lee opened the 1964 season with the Angels.

He made a relief appearance in the Angels' second game of the season, at Washington. He struck out two of the three Senators batters he faced.

Lee was used mostly in relief with Los Angeles in 1964. He appeared in 64 games, starting five and closing out 39. He had a 6-5 record with 19 saves. He struck out 111 in 137 innings. His 1.51 ERA was tops on the Angels' staff.

The following season, Lee was named too the AL All-Star team. At the break he had a 6-4 won-lost record and 14 saves. He did not appear in the 6-5 loss to the NL. He finished the 1965 season with a 9-7 record. He didn't get a start in his 69 appearances, closing out 50 games and earning 23 saves. His 1.92 ERA was again team-best.

After a 5-4 season for California in 1966, Lee was traded to the Dodgers. He relieved in four games for them in 1967 before being sold to Cincinnati, where his record was 3-3 with three saves in 27 appearances. Lee ended his pro career with the Reds in 1968. His record that season in 44 appearances was 2-4 with three saves and a 5.15 ERA.

Bob Lee's major league totals in five seasons was a record of 25-23 with 64 saves in 269 games. He struck out 315 in 492 innings and had a career ERA of 2.71.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Original Bat-man added to my TV Westerns customs

We were hit with nearly two feet of snow here is west central Pennsylvania the weekend of Jan. 22-23. With nowhere to go and no way to get there, the situation offered a great opportunity to work on some custom cards.

It's been nearly a year since I made any additions to my TV Westerns series, so that was my subject of choice. 

The series Bat Masterson lasted on NBC for four seasons (108 episodes) 1958-1961 during the heyday of TV Westerns. 

Suave Gene Barry had the title role. To my mind, his portrayal of Masterson was just the first of three personifications of the same  debonair man-about-town character. There's really not a lot of difference between Bat Masterson, Amos Burke (Burke's Law 1963-1966) and Glenn Howard (The Name of the Game 1968-1971) as played by Gene Barry.

When the Starz premium cable network has its free preview weekends, I like to watch or record reruns of Bat Masterson. For several years It has been part of the lineup on the network's Encore Westerns channel.

The show's original format made it something of a challenge to add to my TV Westerns card series. The half-hour program was broadcast in black-and-white, making available color pictures for my cards somewhat scarce.

Making the best of the situation, I was able to create this pair of custom cards in recognition of one of my favorite TV Western shows when I was a kid. 

Friday, February 5, 2016

Gibbs' return to Little Rock in '63 stirred crowd

Jake Gibbs played most of his first four
sons of pro ball as catcher for the
Yankees' AAA farm team at
(International League).
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.

Casual sports fans in attendance at the July 10, 1963, ballgame in Little Rock, Ark., may not have fully understood what was happening when the Richmond Virginians sent a pinch-hitter to the plate in the top of the eighth inning.

The city had gone the previous season without a professional ballclub after decades as a mainstay of the Class AA Southern Association. When the Class AAA International League had gone to a two-division, 10-team circuit for 1963, Little Rock had received an expansion franchise. They were a top farm club of the Philadelphia Phillies.

The Richmond pinch-hitter was catcher Jake Gibbs. As he was announced, the crowd erupted with cries of "sooiee!" They remembered the last time Gibbs had appeared in Little Rock.

On Oct. 22, 1960, Gibbs was on the field at War Memorial Stadium as the All-American quarterback for the undefeated Ole Miss Rebels. They were playing #14 Arkansas, that season's eventual Southwest Conference champion.

The Razorbacks and Rebels had faced each other dozens of times since 1908. From 1940-47 and 1952-62 they renewed the rivalry annually. 

In 1960 the game was tied 7-7 late in the fourth quarter when Gibbs engineered a drive beginning on the Mississippi 25-yard line and stalling just inside the Arkansas 40-yard stripe.

Allan Green came on for a 39-yard field goal attempt. Gibbs was the holder as Green lined up for the kick. The roar of the home crowd was deafening. Referee Tommy Bell, a Southeastern Conference official, called time out to quiet the crowd so the Rebels could hear their signals. Green, however didn't hear Bell's whistle and kicked what would have been the winning field goal.

He had to retry the attempt but the result of the re-kick was the same, Ole Miss won the game 10-7.

Arkansas fans were howling mad. They swore that Bell signaled the kick was good as soon as Green's foot contacted the ball. They said the try went wide.The home folks felt Bell's call was a make-good and they roasted the ref. Without multiple cameras and the benefit of slo-mo replays, Bell's call was the final word.

The game came to be known in Arkansas as the "Tommy Bell Game." Although Bell went on to a 15-year career as one of the NFL's most respected officials he had few fans among the Razorback faithful.

The fans in Little Rock got some measure of satisfaction that July night when their one-time nemesis Jake Gibbs popped out.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

New Rails & Sails custom: "Abraham Lincoln"

I've just completed another custom card in the 1955 Topps Rails and Sails format. It depicts the 1930s Chicago-St. Louis inter-city passenger train "Abraham Lincoln."

Production of this distinctively different outfit was subsidized by the U.S. Public Works Administration during the Depression.

The back of my card is really just a 1950s snapshot of the train's origins. Tracing its history all over the internet is a convoluted route. The "Abe" was reconfigured a number of times between 1935 and the 1960s, especially after the Alton Railroad was sold to the Gulf, Mobile & Ohio in 1947.

Still, I enjoy losing myself for an afternoon researching the great old streamliners of my youth.

There will be more along these lines as the winter wears on.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Jansen's '52 Topps showed procreative prowess

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.

For a non-star player's card, Larry Jansen's 1952 Topps card #5 has always enjoyed a bit of extra popularity. 

It is one of the horizontal cards in the set, and pictures a broadly smiling Jansen holding up five fingers on his left hand and two on his right. 

Reading the back of the card, it seems Jansen is indicating the number of children he has. That homey touch and the horizontal format have given the card a modest boost in demand over the years.

But those seven children weren't the end of Jansen's brood. On Sept. 12, 1963, Jansen's wife Eileen gave birth to their 10th child, James Michael, whose appearance brought the family into balance at five girls and five boys.

The Sporting News noted that the newest Jansen was an "instant uncle" to four of Jansen's older grandchildren.

His procreative prowess aside, Larry Jansen enjoyed a modicum of success as a professional pitcher.

In 1946, his fifth season in the minor leagues, Jansen won 30 games to lead the Pacific Coast League (they played 183 games in the league back then). His 1.56 ERA was also tops.

Naturally the N.Y. Giants brought Jansen up for the 1947 season. He was 21-5 with a 3.16 ERA. His .808 winning percentage led the major leagues and he came in second in Rookie of the Year voting to Jackie Robinson.

In his eight years with the Giants, Jansen was a two-time All-Star, including 1951 when he tied for the major league lead in wins with teammate Sal Maglie at 23. Some of the luster of that season was lost when he was tagged for two World Series losses to the Yankees.

After winning his first two decisions in 1954, he dropped a pair and the Giants' released him at the All-Star break.

Jansen returned to the Coast League for 1955 and had a 7-7 record with Seattle. In 1956, again with Seattle, he had an 11-2 record when the Cincinnati Reds brought him up in August. For the remainder of the season he was 2-3 with Cincinnati.

Jansen  pitched four more years in the PCL, retiring after the 1960 season to join the S.F. Giants as pitching coach in 1961. He held that post throughout the decade.

At the time of his death in 2009 in his home town of Verboort, Ore., Jansen had 23 grandchildren, more than 40 great-grandchildren and a great-great grandson.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Customs expand Wahoo McDaniel's card legacy

It's almost as hard to find the nuts and bolts of Ed "Wahoo" McDaniel's football career today as it was to sort fact from fiction during his nearly three decades as a professional wrestler.

The internet has lots of information, of course, but much of it is wrong. I spent most of a day recently trying to verify the details of McDaniel's days in the early American Football League.

It wasn't just idle curiosity. I was researching data to write the backs for a pair of custom cards I created. 

McDaniel, you see, for as popular and colorful of a player as he was, was almost entirely neglected by the bubblegum card companies in the 1960s. His only mainstream football card was in the 1967 Topps set, which has him with the AFL expansion Miami Dolphins, though the photo shows him in a N.Y. Jets jersey.

While the 1967 Topps McDaniel card is easy to find, collectors will have a difficult time acquiring a rare regional. He is included in a 1967 Dolphins team set that was issued two players per week by the south Florida chain of Royal Castle burger joints. And it will be expensive when it is available. 

McDaniel also has a couple of 1980s rasslin' cards for those who are into that.

The back of his '67T football card, #82 in the set, illustrates what I mean about getting the facts straight. Topps says he "played with San Diego, Houston, Denver, New York and now Miami".

While McDaniel was Chargers property twice in his career, I can't find that he ever played with them. He was selected by the Los Angeles Chargers in the 1960 AFL draft, though I can't find a list of draft picks by round. In 1968, at the end of his pro football days he was traded to the San Diego Chargers after a dust-up with Miami police officers. He never played with San Diego, though, going into professional wrestling full-time.

As near as I can determine, McDaniel spurned the L.A. Chargers' draft to go to camp with the NFL's Dallas Cowboys. He played seven games at offensive guard with the eventual 1960 AFL Champion Houston Oilers, but how he got there, I don't know.

Another example: a couple of internet sites say that McDaniel played on Bud Wilkinson's 1955 and 1956 Sooners national championship teams. However, McDaniel was still in high school during the 1955 season, and in 1956 he was a freshman and, under NCAA rules of the time, was ineligible t play on the Oklahoma varsity.

Likewise, I can find no details of how he got from Houston to the Denver Broncos for the 1961 season. I chose the 1962 Fleer format for one of my Wahoo McDaniel custom cards; it is my first in that style.

My other custom is done in the style of the 1965 Topps "tall boy". Fortunately the specifics of McDaniel's acquisition by the Jets are well documented. He was part of a Jan. 1, 1964, nine-player trade which sent McDaniel and three other Denver Broncos to New York for five Jets.

It was in New York that McDaniel became one of the AFL's most popular stars. His aggressive play on the field and tabloid-fodder exploits off the field made him a fan favorite in the style of Joe Namath . . . before there was a Joe Namath in New York.

In the Jets' first game in Shea Stadium on Sept. 12, 1964, before a then-record AFL crowd of 45,409, McDaniel was credited with 23 tackles against his old team as New York beat the Broncos 30-6.

Of all the articles available on the internet about Wahoo McDaniel, you can't do any better than this piece by G. Neri: McDaniel biography

Neri's blog captures the reason that I, as a young fan of the upstart AFL in the early 1960s, was a big fan of Wahoo McDaniel. I'm happy to expand the world of McDaniel's cards.with this pair of customs.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Custom baseball cards available as of 1/27/16

Since announcing on the blog on Dec. 13 that I would no longer be printing custom cards for sale, I've had a rush of last-chance orders that have decimated my on-hand stock of cards.

This list represents the cards still available as of Jan. 12, 2016. No other cards are available. I will keep this list updated as cards sell out and become unavailable.

Orders will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis as long as supplies last. If you're interested in obtaining any of these cards they are available at $12.50 apiece for 1-2 cards, or $9.95 each for three or more, mix/match.

To order you must email me at to ascertain current availability. As cards go out of stock I will attempt to keep the list updated.

Thanks much for your past support of my custom cards.