Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Frank Baumann was one lucky lefty

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.

Timing was everything for Frank Baumann. 

In 1952 he was the most heralded player in high school baseball. In the Missouri state high school tournament he pitched four no-hitters, two of them perfect games. His Central (St. Louis) High School team won its third consecutive state championship and Baumann repeated as Missouri high school MVP.

Baumann was the subject of a full-page photo feature in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on June 8. His graduation three days later set off one of the gaudiest bidding wars of the era. 

Baumann was fortunate that he turned pro when he did because it was in the period when Major League Baseball was in between bonus rules. The previous bonus rules had expired during the 1950 winter meetings, and a new set of rules that would require "bonus baby" players to be placed on the major league roster for two years was not voted in until 1953.

Thus, there were no holds barred in signing free agents excepting that high school players could not be signed until their class had graduated. 

Bill Veeck, owner of the hometown St. Louis Browns, reportedly opened the bidding at $30,000. A week later, Baumann's father inked a contract on his behalf with the Boston Red Sox for $85,000. It was reported that Baumann had turned down a $95,000 offer from the Cleveland Indians.

While it was first reported that Baumann was getting $125,000 from Boston, more extensive digging by The Sporting News revealed that $85,000 was the correct figure. Even at that, TSN said it was believed to be the highest price ever paid for a free agent, "taking into consideration the fact that estimates of bonuses given to young prospects usually are exaggerated."

TSN reported that the $85,000 bonus was to be spread out over five years. Frank Baumann's father was to receive $9,000 in each of the first two years, while the pitcher pocketed $8,000 each year. In the third, fourth and fifth years of the contract, Frank received $17,000 a year. The contract was guaranteed "against call into armed forces, injury, even death," said TSN.

Baumann's signing was reportedly the first time that negotiations were carried on with outside parties instead of the player and his family. The Baumann's were advised by Michael Aubuchon, an attorney experienced in handling sports (primarily boxing) contracts and Jim Fox, a CPA and close friend of Baumann's father. Fox was said to be an expert on income tax structure. 

On June 19, the date the contract was signed, the Red Sox were wrapping up a three-game series in St. Louis. Boston manager Lou Boudreau said that if the contract had been signed that morning, he  would have been willing to start Baumann that night against the Browns. The contract was not signed until that night, however, so Baumann's big league debut had to wait.

Putting the $85,000 contract that Baumann signed into perspective, that figure probably represented more than the annual salary of 98% of contemporary major leaguers. In today's terms, it would be like signing a kid out of high school for $20+ million.

Baumann's began his professional career on June 22, pitching for the Red Sox' top farm club, the Louisville Colonels of the American Association (where he earned $600 a month). He won his first pro game 5-0, shutting out the Columbus Redbirds in the seven-inning second game of a Sunday doubleheader. In his debut he gave up four hits, walked a pair and struck out five.

For all the hoopla, Baumann's first year in pro ball was only a modest success. He started 14 games, winning four and losing six on a 4.06 ERA. In 88 innings he struck out 69, walked 55 and gave up 83 hits.

In his second season at Louisville, Baumann really began to live up to his potential. He ran up a 10-1 record, effectively leading the league in winning percentage and ERA (2.55). He was named to the AA All-Star team.

Baumann spent the 1954 season and most of 1955 in the army. He made his major league debut on July 31, 1955, coming on in relief against the Tigers to earn a 3-2 win. 

He remained with the Red Sox for four more seasons, spending parts of the 1956-58 seasons in the minors. 
From 1955-59 with Boston he had a 13-8 record. 

Following the 1959 season, Baumann was traded to the White Sox. and enjoyed something of a resurgence.  he had a 13-6 record and tied for the A.L. ERA title at 2.67. 

He pitched for Chicago through the 1964 season, with a 32-29 record. 

Baumann was dealt to the Cubs for 1965, but pitched only four games for them (0-1 record) before ending his major league career on May 8.

Baumann followed his playing days as a salesman (autos, appliances, liquor, linens), managing an ice rink and working for the Missouri State Lottery Commission.

Like his major league career, Frank Baumann's baseball card legacy was somewhat late in getting started, considering the publicity his signing engendered. He appeared on Topps cards from 1958-65 and in the 1961 Post cereal set.

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