Saturday, April 21, 2012

A Luke Easter collectible that never got made

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.

Shortly after the end of the 1952 World Series, slugging Cleveland Indians first baseman Luke Easter announced that he had gone into the sausage business with his brother-in-law, Raymond Cash.

After sampling some of Cash's breakfast sausage, Luke put up $11,000 to buy a truck and kitchen equipment and the pair was on its way to creating Ray Sausage Co., a company that remains in business to this day.

In announcing his new enterprise, Easter said that his picture was going to be placed on the 1 lb. packages of sausages. That, apparently, never came to pass. That's too bad because, for my money, there can never be enough Luke Easter collectibles.

The photograph that accompanies this post is dated, March, 1953. It shows Easter in chef's garb during spring training serving his sausage to teammates Ted Wilks (left) and Barney McCosky.

Within months, Ray's Sausage was selling 2,300 pounds of sausage a day. For the 1953 season, Easter obtained a concessions agreement to sell his product at Cleveland's Municipal Stadium. In late 1953, Easter created another venue for his company's sausage when he opened a restaurant in Cleveland's Hotel Majestic building.

The company became well-known for its hot and extra-hot sausage, head cheese and "souse," which is vinegar-infused head cheese.

Hobbled by injuries and failing eyesight, Easter passed out of the major leagues in 1954, but played in the high minors for another decade. 

When he landed in Buffalo in 1956, Easter created another sausage company, the namesake Luke Easter Sausage Co. My less-than-exhaustive googling failed to disclose if or when Easter's participation in Ray's Sausage ended, or the ultimate fate of the Luke Easter Sausage Co.

It was widely reported that after joining the Rochester Red Wings in 1959, Easter presented five pounds of his sausage to teammates who hit a home run.

The story of Ray's Sausage Company took a macabre turn in 2009. 

The company had been located since its founding at the corner of East 123rd St. and Imperial Ave. in Cleveland. Next door was the home of Anthony Sowell . . . the now infamous "Cleveland Strangler." 

Beginning around 2007, Sowell is believed to have raped and murdered 11 women, concealing or burying their bodies in his house and yard. 

When the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood where Sowell's home and Ray's Sausage Co. were located began to be plagued by a persistent foul smell, some neighbors attributed the stench to the sausage factory on the corner. The meat company spent 10s of thousands of dollars in an attempt to find and eliminate the rotten smell, but it persisted until Sowell's sordid story was revealed and the bodies removed.

Thus far, Ray's Sausage, now operated by the original Ray Cash's children, son Ray, Jr., and daughter Renee, has survived the unfortunate association, largely due to loyalty by three generations of customers accustomed to finding the product in inner-city grocery stores and restaurants in the Rust Belt.

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