Sunday, January 10, 2010

Watch out for Mantle program reprints

If there was a Hall of Fame for unsung baseball historians, the minor league wing should be named for John G. Hall of Columbia, Mo.
For the past 16 years, Hall has been chronicling the Kansas- Oklahoma-Missouri League, a Class D circuit that existed for only half that long, from 1946-1952.
Hall publishes a quarterly (or so) newsletter called The KOM League Remembered, and in recent years has been supplementing the print presentation with what he calls KOM League Flash Reports on the internet.
Hall seems to know virtually every alumnus of that minor league or their surviving relatives. His newsletter and Flash Reports are full of great stories of the ballplayer veterans of the K-O-M League and of virtually everything else related to the circuit. His writings bring to life many of the faces that card collectors are familiar with from their Bowman and Topps cards of the late 1940s and 1950s.
These reports are not only historically important, but they are written in an entertaining style that makes them great reading for any baseball fan. You can get a sense of the author's style from the copyright notice on each issue, which concludes, "All rights reserved until the day I die. Within a month afterward no one will remember ths publication ever existed. And, justifiably so." Elsewhere he states, "Some of the news in this publication isn't fit to print, but is."

Besides his work in detailing and preserving the history of the K-O-M, Hall was in the past involved in setting up reunions for its players. In conjunction with the 1998 reunion, he created reprints of a pair of scorecards for games in which Mickey Mantle had played with the 1949 Independence Yankees and the 1950 Joplin Miners.
Mantle is unarguably the most famous alumnus of the K-O-M League. Hall wrote a 2005 book titled, Mickey Mantle: Before the Glory, that has long since sold out at its cover price of $29.95 and now sells on used-book sites for as much as $100+. He's also the author of a K-O-M League photo book, Images of Baseball, published in 2004.
In exchanging e-mails with Hall in recent months, since he contacted me following our recent posts on Ponca City Dodgers cards of 1952, the subject of his scorecard reprints came up and we agreed that it would be a good idea to publicize their existence so that collectors are less likely to be fooled into buying them as valuable original artifacts of Mantle's minor league days.
And that IS a concern, because the reprints are extremely well done and are not overtly identified as reproductions. There was a total of 500 of each of the scorecards made in 1998, and besides distributing them to the players at the reunion, some have been dispersed to fans and collectors over the years.
The cover and that portion of each of the scorecards that lists Mantle are shown here.
At top is a 1949 scorecard of a game between Mantle's I-Yankees and the Iola Indians. Like the original, it is a four-pager printed in 7"x 11-1/4" format, printed in red and black. The Mick, wearing number 16 and playing shortstop, batted seventh in that game and was hitting .315 at the time. I can't decipher the scorer's (Hall said the original from which this was reprinted was scored by a friend of Iola right fielder Dick Getter) system, but it looks like the Yankees were 6-0 winners over Iola, though I can't tell what Mantle's contributions might have been. Obviously this neatly detailed scoring would immediately identify any example of a 1949 Independence-Iola scorecard that might be offered in the collector market as a reprint. So would the unique "Lucky Number" 10016 on the cover.
Some years ago I got into a bidding war on eBay for a similar Independence-Iola scorecard. It wasn't one of Hall's reprints, since it was unscored and had a different lucky number on the cover. I lost out to another collector, but can't today recall what the winning bid was. I wanted the card because of its Iola connection, rather than its ties to Mantle, so I wasn't willing to seriously compete with the Mantle fanatics.
The other Hall reprint is for a 1950 Western Association game with the St. Joseph Cardinals visiting Mantle's Joplin Miners. This was an eight-page affair, in 7" x 9-3/4" size, printed in red and black. The scorecard portion is unmarked, but the reprint would be readily identified by the Lucky Number 5307 on the third page, under a photo of Joplin infielder Carl Lombardi. (I wonder if other printings of the scorecard might have a photo of Mantle?). For the Miners, Mantle was at shortstop, batting clean-up and wearing number 12.
The historic value of scorecards like these would be significant even without the Mantle name. Significant at least to true fans of minor league baseball back in the day.
Just off the top of his head, Hall made these comments about some of the players listed in the line-ups on the Joplin-St. Joseph card.
"The guy in the St. Joseph lineup, playing first base, was "Smokey" Joe Cunningham who was with the Cardinals four years later. Hal Olt was at Springfield, Mo. in 1941 with Stan Musial. The Barth playing left field was Eugene Barth whose greatest fame came as an official in the National Football League. The right fielder that night for St. Joseph was Ace Adamcewicz. He was killed during the Korean War. He died November 21, 1952 in Ft. Devens, Mass. Both catchers at Joplin that year had major league affiliations. Cal Neeman eventually made it to the Chicago Cubs et. al. and the other catcher was the late Lyle Westrum. He was the younger brother of long-time major league catcher, Wes Westrum. Lyle died at an earlyage while duck hunting. I got to know his family a few years ago when I had the reunion of the Joplin Miners at the kickoff of my "book tour" for Mickey Mantle: Before the Glory.
Hopefully, publication of this information on the scorecard reprints will help prevent any fraudulent misrepresentation while at the same time engendering some appreciation for Hall's enthusiasm for K-O-M baseball.
If you have any interest in minor league ball in the immediate post-war era, I can't urge you strongly enough to contact John Hall and support his efforts at historic preservation. Check him out at Hall has also offered to make the few remaining pairs of his reprints available to collectors at $25 per pair, postpaid. The chances of an original of one of these Mantle-related scorecards turning up in the hobby market are slim to none, so this is a rare chance to get the next best thing. The revenue raised will be put towards the printing and mailing of his newsletter. You can order by sending check or money order to John Hall, 1709 Rainwood Place, Columbia, MO 65203.

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