Saturday, August 15, 2009

Tales of T212 #7 : Paul Strand

Back in the early 1980s I thought I'd combine my interests in minor league baseball and vintage baseball cards by assembling a collection of the Obak cigarette cards that were distributed on the West Coast in 1909, 1910 and 1911.I didn't realize it then, but those cards are so much rarer than most of the contemporary T206 cards from "Back East" that putting together complete sets of the Obak could take decades to accomplish -- and that's if a guy had more money than God to buy the cards when they became available.At about the time I started my Obak collection I also started researching the players who appeared in the sets. Over the course of several long Wisconsin winters I pored over microfilms of The Sporting News and The Sporting Life from the period several years before to several years after the Obak cards circulated, making prodigious notes on 3x5 file cards for each player in the set.I gave up trying to collect the T212s (that's the catalog number Jefferson Burdick assigned the three sets in the pioneering American Card Catalog in 1939), long ago, and have since sold off all my Obaks, one-by-one, first on eBay, then on the Net 54 baseball card forum. As I was selling each card, I included interesting tidbits about each player from my notes. The bidders seemed to like learning a little bit about these guys on the cards, so I thought I'd now begin sharing their stories here.

Paul Strand was something of an N.L. Babe Ruth

There were a number of similarities between Paul Strand and Babe Ruth. They were both left-handed pitchers who hit so well that they were converted into outfielders and posted league leading numbers at the plate.

Strand was a Western boy, born in late 1893 at Carbonado, Wash. As a side-arming lefty, he made his professional debut at the age of 17 with Spokane in the Northwestern League. He had only a 5-9 record for the Indians, batting .212, but he earned a spot on the checklist for the final year of Obak's cigarette card issues out West. He also earned the interest of big league scouts, and the Boston Red Sox bought his contract for $5,000.

The Red Sox turned him back to Spokane where he opened the 1912 season. After getting shelled for nine runs in one inning, he was sent down to the new Class D Tri-State Western League. Following the 1912 season he was drafted by the Boston Braves.

Strand pitched sporadically for three seasons for the Braves, with a 7-3 record and a 2.37 ERA. He was on the "Miracle Braves" team of 1914 that wonthe World Series, but Strand never got into the post-season action because the Braves used only three pitchers in sweeping the Athletics.

At the start of the 1916 season, Strand was sold to Toledo on the American Association, where he continued his conversion from the mount to the outfield. He hit only .215 and returned to the West Coast in 1917 with Seattle in the NWL. That season he pitched a perfect game on May 13 against his old team, Spokane. He had a winning season, 9-7, and raised his BA to .285.

Strand spent 1918 in military service during World War I. When he returned to pro ball in 1919 it was with Peoria in the Class B Three-I League. He hit .299 for the "Tractors," then finished the season up a grade at Class A Joplin, where he batted .386 in 17 games.

He split 1920 out West again, leading the Pacficic Coast International League (Class B) with a .339 average at Yakima, before moving up to the Pacific Coast League with Seattle, by now afull-time outfielder.

Moving inland to the Salt Lake City Bees for the next three years, Strand really hit his stride at the plate. After a .314 year in 1921, he led the PCL in 1922 with a .384 BA and 28 home runs. He also set a professional baseball record with 289 hits -- but remember, the PCL played nearly 200 games a season back then.

Strand broke his own hits-in-a-seaon record the following year, with 325 safeties on his way to the PCL triple crown, also leading the league with 43 home runs, 187 RBI and a .394 average. His 180 runs scored were also league-best.

Those numbers earned Strand another shot in the majors at the age of 30 when Connie Mack bought him for a figure variously reported at $35,000 or $50,000, and three players. With the Philadelphia A's for only a couple of months, and hitting only .228, he was sold to Toledo.

Strand continued to dominate pitchers in the high minors for the next three years. He finished 1924 with a .355 average for Toledo, and hit an even .300 in 1925. Moving to Columbus (Amer. Assn.) for 1926, he hit .335 before returning to the West Coast with Portland of the PCL, hitting .326. He remained with Portland for 1927, hitting .355.

At the aqe of 34, Strand wrapped up his pro career in the Southern Association in 1928, batting .273 for Atlanta and Little Rock.

In 14 minor league seasons, Paul Strand played in 1,561 games and had a career batting average of .334. He died in Salt Lake City in 1974 at the age of 80. Since his major league career began after the golden age of cigarette cards, he never appeared as a major leaguer on a baseball card, though he appeared in a number of card sets during his PCL days, including the popular Zeenuts candy issues of 1922, 1923 and 1927.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Your comments, criticism, additional information, questions, etc., are welcome . . . as long as they are germane to the original topic. All comments are moderated before they are allowed to appear and spam comments are deleted before they ever appear. No "Anonymous User" comments are allowed.