Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A couple of customs, just for me

I realize that some of the custom cards I create will resonate with a fair number of collectors. Others I do strictly for myself. The latter are more in keeping with one of the principal reasons I started making customs in the first -- to create cards that I would have liked as a kid.

My latest pair of card creations fills a gap in the baseball card legacy of a Milwaukee Braves player who was an instant favorite of mine in the mid-1950s.

Mel Roach was one of the relatively few bonus babies signed by the Braves under the reformatted bonus rules that took effect in 1953. He debuted in Topps' 1954 and 1955 sets before vanishing until 1959, when he resurfaced wearing glasses -- just like eight-year-old me.

Not being much a newspaper reader in my pre-school years, I didn't know that Roach's absence from the baseball card world from 1956-58 was due to the fact that, after appearing in all of eight games as a bonus baby in 1953-54 (and batting .000), Roach had spent the 1955 and 1956 seasons in the U.S. Navy, and most of the 1957 season in the Braves' minor league system, getting some much-needed professional experience. 

With Milwaukee in 1958, Roach was finally beginning to show the form the Braves had seen when they signed him off the University of Virginia campus five years earlier. He was batting  .309, spelling Red Schoendienst at second base, pinch-hitting and playing in the outfield when he tore up his left knee on Aug, 3, sidelining him for the rest of 1958 and, after a temporary comeback, most of 1959. He returned in 1960 to hit an even .300 as a versatile utility player all over the infield and outfield. 

Early in the 1961 season, he was traded to the Cubs for Frank Thomas, and Mel Roach was dead to me as a Braves fan and card collector. 

He jumped back into my consciousness a couple of months back when a pair of late-1950s photos of him appeared in the Topps Vault auctions on eBay. The custom cards that resulted are presented here. The 1958-style card is my first in that format.

Roach appeared in the 1960 Topps set (without the specs) and 1961 (with) as a Brave. He does not appear on a card as a Cub, having been traded in November, 1961, to the Indians and then to the Phillies prior to the opening of the 1962 season. His last card (again with glasses) in 1962 Topps pictures him as a Phillie.

When I revitalized my interest in card collecting in the late 1970s, I was surprised to find that Mel Roach's card in the 1961 Post cereal box-back issue was a scarce short-print, falling within the numbers assigned to the L.A. Dodgers.

Roach was one of the former bonus babies interviewed in Brent Kelley's 2006 book, Baseball's Bonus Babies. You can find the entire interview on line by doing a Google books search.

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