Sunday, April 17, 2011

Qualters had five cards, no MLB decisions

Uncommon commons. Contemporary accounts of tidbits that as a collector of baseball and football cards I found interesting because they helped bring to life the faces on the cards I collected. I figure that if I found these items of interest, so would other vintage card collectors.

When baseball historians discuss the deleterious effects of the bonus rule as it stood in the early 1950s, one of the poster boys often cited is Tom Qualters.

A pitching star in high school at McKeesport, Pa., just southwest of Pittsburgh. Qualters was courted by many major league teams, signing with the Philadelphia Phillies for a reported $40,000.

Under the bonus rules then in effect, Qualters was required to be carried on the Phillies roster for two years. While many of the era's "bonus babies" became contributing players in their two-years on the big club's bench, and a few became stars, the careers of many are typified by Tom Qualters.

Qualters was signed by the Phils on June 16, 1953. He didn't make his first appearance in an official game until Sept. 13 when Philadelphia was in St. Louis to face the Cardinals. That afternoon, Qualters was the fifth of sixth Phillies pitchers used, coming to the mound to open the bottom of the eighth inning with his team trailing 11-1.

Just 18 years old, with no minor league experience, Qualters was rudely received by the Cardinals. He faced seven batters, getting only one out. He gave up four hits, one of them a home run. The six runs he allowed were all earned. He walked one batter, hit another and was charged with a wild pitch. His ERA in his major league debut was 162.00. He received no decision in the game.

In fact, Qualters never received a decison in the 68 major league games in which he appeared. 

After his shelling in St. Louis, Qualters rode the pines for the entire 1954 season, and as soon as the bonus rules allowed, he was sent to the minor leagues in 1955, still only 20 years old. At Reidsville in the Class B Carolina League he was 8-9 with a 4.90 ERA. 

He pitched the 1956-57 seasons with Miami, the Phillies AAA farm club. He compiled a 16-17 record and was called up to the big club in September. He appeared in six games, all of the Phillies losses, pitching only 7.1 innings with a 7.36 ERA. 

Qualters opened the 1958 season with the Phillies, pitching in only one game before being sold to the Chicago White Sox on April 30. In 26 games (43 innings) with the White Sox, Qualters had an ERA of 4.19. His last major league appearance was Sept. 25, 1958. As mentioned, he left the majors without ever being credited with a win or a loss.

He also has a lifetime batting average of .000.  In 34 games played, Qualters had only four plate appearances. He walked twice and struck out twice.

Qualters returned to the minor leagues from 1959-62, before retiring. His lifetime minor league record was 43-51 with a 4.17 ERA.

While it's true that Tom Qualters made his official major league debut on Sept. 13, 1953, that was not the first time the Philly fans had seen their bonus pitcher in action against major league competition.

Less than two weeks after signing his big bonus contract, Qualters was showcased in the annual Phillies-A's exhibition charity game to benefit the Junior Baseball Federation of Philadelphia on June 29. In those days it was not uncommon for big league teams to play several exhibition games during each season, often for charity. They provided a good opportunity to give fans a look at players such as Qualters who were otherwise relegated to bench duty.

In the exhibition game, Qualters did not fare well. In front of a crowd of 15,293, he gave up six runs in the second inning. His teammates, who had tagged him with the nickname of "Money Bags," erased the deficit, though, and the Phillies went on to win 8-6. Charitably, the A's batters said he showed plenty of speed and lauded his curve -- though they pounded it all over the park.

Two weeks later, Qualters pitched in another exhibition game, against the Baltimore Orioles (then in the International League). Qualters was again hammed in the 10-3 loss. He pitched three innings, giving up five hits, five runs and four walks.

Despite his lack of success in the major leagues, Qualters appears on five Topps baseball cards. His rookie card is in 1954 Topps. In 1955 he appears in both the regular set and the Doubleheaders. In 1958-59 he's shown with the White Sox.

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