Sunday, February 28, 2016

'59T custom multi-player feature card has Slaughter, Boone, Vernon as Braves

Creation of this custom card required me to bend one of my cardinal rules of card-making. I strive to never make a card that is anachronistic; that is, that could not have been created by Topps, Bowman, etc., in the year represented.

That's why I've never made a Babe Ruth card is the 1958 Topps format, or a Gorman Thomas card in the style of 1955 Bowman.

My new "Tribal Elders" card is in the format of a 1959 Topps multi-player feature card (a term I invented 30+ years ago for a feature in Baseball Cards magazine). 

While all three of the players pictured actually did play for the Milwaukee Braves in 1959, each had already appeared in the '59T set with another team: Mickey Vernon with the Indians, Ray Boone with the White Sox and Enos Slaughter as a N.Y. Yankee.  

By the time the trio converged on the Milwaukee clubhouse, the 1959 baseball card-season was over. By the time the 1960 cards were being prepared, two of the three were no longer with the Braves.

Still, the black-and-white photo on which I based my card is just too good to ignore. It shows three All-Star veterans who you don't normally think of in a Braves' uniform. So I decided to stretch the 1959 card season and make this card in that classic Topps mid-century format.

Pretty much as it says on the back of my card, these veteran ballplayers were picked up by Milwaukee to bolster their chances at a three-peat of the National League pennant. At the time they joined Milwaukee, Vernon was just shy of his 42nd birthday. Slaughter was 43 (the oldest player in the majors), Boone was 36.

Vernon came over on April 11, just prior to the opening of the 1959 season. The Braves had sent pitcher Humberto Robinson to Cleveland in a trade. Milwaukee would use Vernon when a left-handed hitting first baseman was called for, and he provided insurance at the position for the injury-prone Joe Adcock.

Versatile Ray Boone was picked up on waivers on Aug. 20 from the Kansas City A's, for whom he had hit .273. While he was almost exclusively a first baseman at that stage of his career, Boone had earlier played at third base and shortstop. He still offered occasional power in his bat.

Slaughter didn't join the Braves until Sept. 11. He too came off the waiver wire, from the Yankees. The Braves acquired Slaughter because their regular left fielder, Wes Covington, went down with a torn ankle ligament; out for the season.

When play resumed after the (first) All-Star break, the Braves found themselves in a three-way pennant chase with the Giants and Dodgers, after having led the N.L. almost ever day since the season opener. They never dropped below third place and were never further behind than 4-1/2 games but it was a real dog fight.

The Braves ended the regular season tied with the L.A. Dodgers, then dropped a best-of-three playoff series.

As it turned out, the veterans acquired by Milwaukee didn't materially affect the outcome of the pennant race.

Vernon appeared in 74 games, almost all of them as a pinch-hitter. He batted just .220. In the second-game loss of the playoff series, he was unsuccessful in that role, striking out for the third out in the top of the ninth after Sandy Koufax had walked the bases loaded.

Ray Boone was also used principally as a pinch-hitter by Milwaukee. He did get three starts at first base to go along with 10 pinch-hit appearances. He batted .200 for Milwaukee.

Filling in for the downed Covington, Enos Slaughter started five games in left field and had six pinch-hit appearances, including both games, ineffectually, of the playoff series with the Dodgers. In his time with the Braves, Slaughter hit just .167.

Milwaukee released Slaughter and Vernon on Oct. 13, 1959. 

Slaughter spent 1960 and 1961 as a minor league playing-manager. In 1960 he was skipper of the Cubs' Class AAA farm club at Houston. In 1961 the N.Y. Mets, set to begin NL play in 1962, hired Slaughter to manage their Class B team in the Carolina League. Slaughter's Raleigh Capitals ended the season in last place and did not have a single player who ever saw as much as a cup of coffee in the major leagues. Slaughter batted .341 in 41 pinch-hit appearances for the team.

Mickey Vernon was hired for 1960 as the Pirates first base coach. One of his special projects was to work with Dick Stuart to improve the slugger's fielding as a first baseman.
When the rosters expanded on Sept. 1, Vernon was tendered a player's contract. He appeared nine times as a pinch-hitter, getting one hit, a walk and an RBI. In the first base coach's box, Vernon was the first person to shake Bill Mazeroski's hand when Maz hit a walk-off home run to defeat the Yankees in the 1960 World Series.

In 1961 Vernon was named manager of the expansion Washington Senators. He was fired in mid-1963, later coaching the Pirates and Cardinals and working as a minor league manager for the KC/Oakland A's, the Braves and the Mets through 1971.

Ray Boone remained with the Braves until May 17, 1960, when he was traded to the Boston Red Sox. Aging and ailing knees prevented him from continuing as a major leaguer and in mid-September, he retired and took up scouting for Boston in his native San Diego area.

I'd had the Slaughter-Boone-Vernon photo in my files for a number of years before reconciling to the fact that any card I made with it would have been an impossibility for Topps in 1959, but it was just too good a concept not to pursue.

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