Thursday, March 31, 2011

You say Cy Kotty, I say See Kott

Uncommon commons. Contemporary accounts of tidbits that as a collector of baseball and football cards I found interesting because they helped bring to life the faces on the cards I collected. I figure that if I found these items of interest, so would other vintage card collectors.

Hobbyists disagree on the pronunciation of the name of Black Sox pitcher Ed Cicotte. A 1953 feature in The Sporting News provided the answer right from the mouth of a relative with the same surname.

In 1953 Yankees' pitching prospect Al Cicotte was in spring training camp with the big club after an 8-9 season in the high minors. Cicotte had signed as a Yankees farmhand at the age of 18 in 1948, and spent four seasons bouncing between the low minors and military service. It would be four more years before he made his major league debut with New York, beginning an up-and-down career that included service with the Senators, Tigers, Indians, Cardinals and .45s between 1957-62, with stints at their top minor league teams interspersed until he hung up the spikes after the 1962 season. His major league record over five seasons was 10-13 with an ERA of 4.36.

In one of his "down" years, 1960, when Cleveland had farmed him to their club at Toronto, Cicotte was the International League Pitcher of the Year, winning the pitcher's Triple Crown with a 16-7 record, 1.79 ERA and 158 strikeouts. He also pitched a no-hitter against the Montreal Royals on Sept. 3.

In that TSN interview of 1953, Al Cicotte was asked about his relationship with Ed Cicotte, his great-uncle who had won more than 209 major league games before his lifetime banishment for his role in the 1919 World Series scandal.

"I never wanted to talk to him about it," the younger Cicotte said of the affair, "I never knew how much he wanted to talk about it. I didn't want to push it."

Cicotte told the reporter how his great-uncle had asked him to visit before he left for his first year of professional ball. Besides some pitching tips, the disgraced player gave his brother's grandson this advice, "Watch yourself, but watch your companions more. Stay away from gamblers. Stay away from wrong people."

During the interview, Al Cicotte cleared up the pronunciation conundrum. He pronounced his patronym the way his father did, See Kott. That branch of the family may have adopted the pronunciation in an attempt to distance itself from the infamous pitcher, who pronounced the family name Cy Kotty.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Orcajo Reds postcard pair reported

In the Cincinnati Reds glory years of the late-1930s, a Dayton, Ohio, photo studio issued a series of four different types of player postcards featuring nearly 40 Reds players plus, inexplicably, Joe DiMaggio.

Pioneering card catalog Jefferson Burdick lumped the four types together under the catalog number of PC786.

First issued in 1937, the earliest cards have an inset photo on front of Reds broadcaster Si Burick of WHIO radio. These cards do not have the Orcajo imprint on the postcard back.

Perhaps also issued in 1937, and continuing in 1938 and 1939 are cards that: 1) have no advertising imprint on front; 2) have advertising on front for Val Decker Packing Co., a meat dealer, or, 3) have advertising on front for Metropolitan Clothing Co. These latter three types have on back, along with standard postcard indicia, a credit line of "ORCAJO PHOTO ART, DAYTON, OHIO".

All of the Orcajo cards are in standard postcard format of 3-1/2" x 5-1/2" with sepia posed-action photos and white borders.

Not all players' cards can be found in all types, and, surprisingly, cards of heretofore unreported players are still being discovered.

The latest additions to the checklist come from Maryland collector Al Moore, who sent photocopies of Orcajo postcards of George Davis and Alex Kampouris.

George Davis, nicknamed Kiddo, is one of three Reds named Davis who appear among the Orcajo postcards. He was purchased from the Giants on Aug. 4, 1937, and released by the Reds just about a year later. It may be that his card remained unchecklisted so long because it was only issued for a relatively short period. Thus far, the Kiddo Davis Orcajo card is known only with the Val Decker ad on front.

The other Davises found on Orcajo postcards are catcher Virgil "Spud" Davis, and pitcher Roy "Peaches" Davis, who is identified on the card as "Ray".

The other newly reported Orcajo card is of Alex Kampouris, which might also have been short-printed in that he was traded to the Giants for Wally Berger on June 6, 1938. The Kampouris card submitted by Moore has the Val Decker advertising on front, but it is so faded in that area of the postcard that it is virtually invisible.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

If Jackie had a 1957 Topps card

My most recent custom card project is a bit of an historical stretch . . . but it could have happened.

On Dec. 13, 1956, it was announced that Jackie Robinson had been traded by the Brooklyn Dodgers to the N.Y. Giants for left-handed pitcher Dick Littlefield and $35,000.

The Dodgers, who always seemed to be just short of the pitching needed to clinch pennants and win World Series, had seriously offered Robinson as trade bait as far back as 1952. They were looking to unload a player who could no longer hold down a position on an every-game basis, whose hitting was on the decline and who was pulling down a $40,000 salary.

The Giants needed a first baseman for the 1957 season. They had just lost slugger Bill White to military service and guys like Orlando Cepeda and Willie McCovey were still a year or two away.

Robinson had made it clear that if he was ever traded to a team outside of New York, he would retire. At that, after learning that he had been dealt to the Giants, Robinson told owner Horace Stoneham that he wanted until Jan. 21 to consider whether he would continue in the game.

That proved to be a disingenuous stall. Robinson had already, in fact, decided he would retire and had sold an exclusive story to that effect to Look magazine for a reported $50,000. The magazine was not due to go on sale at newsstands until about Jan. 21, but subscriber copies began to arrive in the mail by the second week in January and the cat was out of the bag. Robinson was leaving baseball to take a position as personnel director for Chock full o' Nuts coffee, which had more than two dozen coffee shops in New York City, mostly in black neighborhoods, along with its retail grocery store coffee business.

Given that Robinson didn't make his retirement official until late January, 1957, I'm surprised Topps didn't have a card of him in that year's set. By mid-January, the first several series of Topps cards must have been in production, if not already on the printing press. Of course if he had been set to appear in the early series, it would have been as a Brooklyn Dodger. Perhaps somebody at Topps had been tipped off about the retirement.

If Topps did have an insider, things could have gone the way I have projected with my custom card of Robinson as a Giant.

Never hesitant to airbrush an existing photo to reflect a team change, Topps could have rushed a Robinson-as-Giant card into production in the month between the trade and the time his retirement was announced.

Regardless, I've attempted to remedy the baseball card historical record with my custom creation.

There does not appear to be any extant contemporary photograph of Jackie Robinson in a Giants uniform, so I had to make my own.

You might recognize the basic portrait as the image that was used on Robinson's 1952, 1955 and 1956 Topps cards. The fact that the portrait was cut off just above the jersey neckline really tied my hands, as it forced me to use an extreme close-up picture on my card. That wasn't all that unusual among 1957 Topps, however, so I don't think my card looks out of place.

To replace the Dodgers jersey, I used the '57 card of Windy McCall, which provided the background, as well. I tried to find another 1957 or even 1958 Giants card that would allow me to graft Robinson's head on and give me a less close-up perspective, but nothing seemed to work, or at least I couldn't make it work with my rather rudimentary Photoshop skills.

Likewise, I experimented with about a dozen other '57 backgrounds with brighter colors or stadium scenes, but they never looked right with the close-up portrait. The more I look at what I have, the better I like it as a match for the "real" 1957s.

I tried on half a dozen or more Giants caps from other cards before I settled on the cap from the 1955 Billy Gardner card. I've never had much luck previously with piecing together different elements -- cap, jersey, portrait -- but I think this one works well. It may not be as good as an original unretouched photo of Robinson in a Giants uniform would have been, but I think it compares well with what Topps artists may have come up with.

Monday, March 28, 2011

You can't beat burgers and baseball

Browsing around eBay the other day I discovered a mid-century baseball collectible with which I was unfamiliar. That's not easy to do, considering the 25+ years that I've been involved editing the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards.

In the good old days, when I was on the job full-time and there was no practical limit as to the size of the big book, I would have added this item to the catalog, despite the fact that it is an advertising premium, rather than a true baseball card. Today, I have to be content with adding it to the data base in hopes that some day it will become feasible to present the entire contents of that treasure trove into a catalog/price guide or a CD. And of course I can share it with you here.

The reason this premium picture struck a chord with me is that it combines two of my favorite things: 1950s baseball and sliders.

The picture is 8" x 10," blank-backed and printed on rather heavy textured paper. It features a posed dugout photo of Cleveland Indians first baseman Vic Wertz and long-time Indians radio play-by-play announcer Jimmy Dudley. The picture probably can't be reliably dated any more specifically than Wertz's entire stint with the Tribe, 1954-57, as the team's home uniform didn't change during that period.

Facsimile autographs and endorsements by the pair appear across the front. Dudley's reads, "Enjoy baseball / Enjoy Royal Castle / have lots of good luck / ya heah". The last two lines were part of Dudley's traditional post-game sign-off. Jimmy Dudley, by the way, entered the Hall of Fame's broadcaster's wing in 1997.

Wertz, about to bite into a burger, is quoted as saying "Royal Castle / makes a hit with me". 

A pennant at bottom has the Royal Castle logo and slogan "Hamburgers fit for a king".

Royal Castle was one of several rip-offs of the White Castle concept of limited-menu restaurants featuring bite-size burgers now colloquially known as sliders, served in tiny garishly lit stores that were open late to attract to the after-hours crowd.

I'm unsure whether the Royal Castle outlets in Cleveland were part of the chain that flourished in Florida, George and Louisiana between the late 1930s and 1977, when it went bust. There were reportedly about two dozen Royal Castle restuarants in the Cleveland area in the late 1950s, serving up 15-cent miniburgers and five-cent birch beer.

It's possible that the Wertz-Dudley premium sprang out of a sponsorship relationship by the burger chain of Indians broadcasts.

I have my own memories of sliders in Cleveland, though I've never had a Royal Castle experience. Through the 1980s and early 1990s, I reserved a spot on the traveling roster of the SCD staff for myself to attend the annual Clay Pasternack show in Strongsville (suburban Cleveland). The show itself was one of the midwest's finest, but what kept me coming back was the fact that the host hotel, at that time a Holiday Inn, was located just across the road from a White Castle. I was then, and remain so today, a White Castle junkie. Until a very few years ago, the chain had not extended northward to Wisconsin, so I always made the most of an opportunity to feed my addiction when traveling the card show circuit. On a related note, here's a tip . . . don't bother with the frozen White Castles available in grocery stores, they're just not the same as those fresh off the steam grill.

If you have an interest in acquiring the Royal Castle premium picture, you be still be able to find it on Mike Mosier's eBay store. His handle on that site is cocicoco. He was offering a fairly beat example of the premium for $129.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Gehrig "sleepwalked" out of '31 HR title

Uncommon commons. Contemporary accounts of tidbits that as a collector of baseball and football cards I found interesting because they helped bring to life the faces on the cards I collected. I figure that if I found these items of interest, so would other vintage card collectors.

According to the official baseball record book, the American League (and MLB) record for home runs in 1931 is shared by teammates Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, with 47 each.

According to one of New York's premier baseball writers of all time, Dan Daniels, the Iron Horse was robbed of sole possession of the HR crown that year by Yankees shortstop Lyn Lary.

In a game at Griffith Stadium against the Senators, Lary was on first base when Gehrig hit a pitch over the right field wall. According to an observer, Lary "jogged past second, touched third and then scurried to the bench." Gehrig was called out when he touched home plate for "passing" Lary on the basepath.

"Lary had sleepwalked Lou out of the crown," Daniels wrote.

Lary, of course, had a different take. The right field fence at Griffith Stadium was 320 feet from home plate in those days. Lary said that Gehrig's blast had gotten over the wall, hit an empty seat back and bounced back to the right fielder so quickly that when the outfielder threw the ball back in to the pitcher, Lary assumed it had been caught for the third out and had headed for the dugout.

The shared title in 1931 was Ruth's 12th and final home run crown, and the first of three for Gehrig.

Friday, March 25, 2011

No MLB love for Beard's '53 bat streaks

Uncommon commons. Contemporary accounts of tidbits that as a collector of baseball and football cards I found interesting because they helped bring to life the faces on the cards I collected. I figure that if I found these items of interest, so would other vintage card collectors.

With his willingness to take a base on balls, and better than average skills as a center fielder, the Pittsburgh Pirates gave Ted Beard some major league playing time -- between 14 and 61 games per season -- each year between 1948-1952.

But even though the Bucs were the near-perennial last place team in the National League, they couldn't afford to keep a sub-.200 hitter on the roster. Thus in early May, 1952, with Beard batting just .182, he was sent to Hollywood in the Pacific Coast League.

Considering the season Beard had with the Stars in 1953, it is somewhat surprising the Pirates never gave him another chance at the big-league level.

Beard hit a modest .286 in helping lead his team to a second consecutive Coast League championship. His 13 triples and 21 stolen bases were both second-best marks in the league.

But it was a couple of record-tying batting performances that made Beard the sensation of the league in early 1953.

On April 5, Beard hit back-to-back-to-back-to-back home runs in a game against the San Diego Padres. Beard's four successive homers tied a mark set by Jeff Heath in 1930.

Then, between April 24-28, Beard tied another league record by hitting safely in 12 consecutive at-bats. After failing to reach on his first three at-bats on the 24th, he went 2-for-2. His three hits on the 25th were the Stars' only safeties that game. He was also 3-for-3 on the 26th. He sat out the game on the 27th, as he usually did when Hollywood faced a left-handed pitcher. Then on the 28th, he was 4-for-4. His streak ended when he popped up on his first at-bat on May 1.

While a 12-for-12 run is a feat in itself, Beard enhanced the streak with five home runs, three of them in succession, among his dozen hits. 

It may be appropriate to give Beard's teammate, Tom Saffell, an "assist" in prolonging the streak. In one game against Portland, with the Stars ahead 9-0 with one out on one man on in the bottom of the eighth inning, Saffell hit into a double play by loafing down the first base line so that Beard, who was on deck, would not have to face the lefty reliever that had been brought in. 

Perhaps somebody with the White Sox recalled Beard's newsmaking streaks of 1953 when the 36-year-old was called up to Chicago from their AAA team at Indianapolis in mid-July of 1957. At the time he was hitting .347, a career high, with the Indians.

Beard had been signed by the Pirates in 1942, spending that season in the low minors. After three years as an Army medic in World War II, he returned to pro ball in 1946, bouncing up and down between Pittsburgh and its minor league farm clubs. 

Beard became a fixture with the Indianapolis Indians, spending parts of 13 of his 19 minor league seasons there between 1947-1963 (though the last three seasons involved only token appearances as a player-coach). In those years Indy was affiliated with, and Beard technically the property of, the Pirates, Cleveland Indians, White Sox, Phillies (for whom he managed the team in 1960) and the Reds.

For all his years in pro ball, Beard didn't get many appearances on mainstream baseball cards. He is found only in the 1951 Bowman and 1952 Topps sets. He can also be found in both the Pirates and Indianapolis team-issued photo packs of 1950. Somewhat surprisingly, Beard was not included in the 1952 or 1953 Mother's Cookies Pacific Coast League sets.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Checklist grows for Kiwanis Orioles set

Since catalog contributor Al Moore, who has been sharing his "stuff" with us this month, is located in Maryland, it is not surprising that he has among his heretofore uncataloged cards some nice Orioles issues.

One of those he reported in his latest data consignment was an addition to the set we have checklisted in the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards as 1957-1959 Kiwanis Orioles Clinic.

We had the issue listed as a one-card "set," (Bob Nieman) but with Al's report, we were able not only to add another card, but also pin down the date of issue. The card that Al reports is Ernie Johnson, who pitched for the Orioles only in his last pro season, 1959.

Coincidentally, the Huggins and Scott auction that is currently running has six cards from this set offered.

The Kiwanis Clinic cards are black-and-white, about 2-7/8" x 3-1/4". They were probably handed out in conjunction with player appearances at a youth baseball clinic in Baltimore in 1959.

The checklist currently stands as:

1.   Chico Carrasquel
2.   Ernie Johnson
3.   Billy Klaus
4.   Bob Nieman
5.   Billy O'Dell
6.   Willie Tasby
7.   Jerry Walker

Future additions to the checklist would not be surprising. The "big book" has carried the value of for these cards at $40 in NM for several editions. The sale of the six examples in the H&S auction will allow us to update the book value appropriately. We'll add that information to this posting when the auction ends.  

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Information and misinformation on the internet

As I near the age of 60, with more than 40 years of experience in gathering and disseminating information as a reporter, writer, editor and publisher, I continue to marvel daily at the availability of information via the internet. Some of it is even accurate!

Without the worldwide web I wouldn't be able to present much of the information you find on my blog, nor would I be able to compile the pictures and information I use to create my custom cards.

I have learned, however, that the internet's cornucopia of data and images is one gift horse that has to be looked in the mouth. Because it is so easy to post information in cyberspace, it is easy to post misinformation, whether innocently or maliciously. And both fact and fiction on the internet have a way of multiplying as undiscerning persons post and repost the information without independently verifying the facts or even applying the sniff test.

This mixed blessing was brought into focus for me again this week when one of my searches of baseball/football photos available for sale (or for "lifting") on eBay produced a studio publicity photo for a long-forgotten TV Western show.

The picture was of actor Jeff Richards in his title role for the 1958 NBC-TV series Jefferson Drum. In 26 episodes aired between April-December of 1958, Richards played a crusading newspaper publisher in the Old West, who, to quote one fan site, often had to use his six-gum to defend his right to print the truth.
This 7" x 9" studio publicity photo
pictures Jeff Richards as Jefferson Drum
Like a surprising number of other TV Westerns of the Fifties and Sixties, Jefferson Drum was a widower trying to bring up his son in a violent, rapidly changing world. By making the lead character a single dad, the door was left open to to a near-weekly parade of potential love interests.

As much of a fan as I was of TV Westerns in that era, I don't remember either the series, its star or any of the regular cast. I do note, however (again, through the accessibility of full episode casts on the Internet Movie Database []) that such stars as Dan Blocker, Robert Vaughn and Mike Connors had appeared in guest shots.

Evidently, the seller of the promo photo also accessed the internet to dig up some data on Jeff Richards. His auction description stated that Richards, who was born Richard Mansfield Taylor in Portland, Ore., had played professional baseball with the Portland Beavers of the Pacific Coast League.

Sensing a possible story for my blog, I began to dig into that allegation. While I found the same information repeated on dozens, if not hundreds of web sites, a couple of hours of cyber sleuthing failed to produce any specifics of the actor's pro ball career. I did find a different source that said that Richards also played with the Salem (Ore.) Senators after being released from the U.S. Navy in 1946.

Next I went to my go-to site for everything baseball, the Society for American Baseball Research's There is no listing on the site for Richard M. Taylor or Jeff Richards, nor for two of the other names on which he appeared in TV and movies, Dick Taylor and Richard Taylor.

With his birthdate -- also something that sometimes has to be viewed as potentially subject to fudging in the case of atheltes and actors -- at hand, Nov. 1, 1922, I checked the Beavers rosters for every season from 1935-1958. Nobody by any of those names was to be found.

Fortunately, the records for the Portland Beavers in those years as reported on the SABR database include every player who appeared in even a single game. It is thus my conclusion that reports of Richard Taylor or Jeff Richards having played pro ball in the PCL were studio hype.

I can't so easily make such a firm statement regarding the possibility that Taylor/Richards may have played with the Salem Senators in the Western International League. Like most of the minor circuits in that era, the SABR records, drawn largely from data compiled for the annual Spalding Baseball Guide, list only players who appeared in 10 or more games. It's possible that Taylor may have had a brief trial with the Senators between his navy days and the start of his Hollywood career.

Richards traded on his athletic background and leading-man good looks to land many moive and TV roles. His most famous baseball-related role was as Adam Polachuk, a N.Y. Giants prospect being evaluated by Hans Lobert (played by Edward G. Robinson) in the 1953 film, Big Leaguer. Baseball players also appearing in the movie as themselves were Carl Hubbell and Jim Campanis.

So, while the internet does offer accessibility of information that makes a researcher's job easier than ever, it is not (yet) infallible and its effective use requires a mix of experience and intuition to achieve a successful result.

And, because us old guys like to school today's youth about how rough we had it back in the day, I'd like to share a couple of personal anecdotes concerning persons who may have exaggerated their athletic glory days.

When I was in junior high school I had a science teacher who claimed that he had competed in the Olympics. As I recall, he was vague about the events in which he participated, though I believe he did specify one specific set of Games, perhaps 1948 or 1952.

He was also my older brother's science teacher a few years earlier, and had made the same claims of international athletic prowess. Probably coincidentally, my brother came across a reference book that purported to list every member of the U.S. Olympic teams.
Richards appeared as Jefferson Drum
in the1959 Nu-Card exhibit-size
set of TV Western stars 

My brother had the poor judgment to confront the teacher -- in front of the entire class -- with the fact that his name appeared nowhere in the official record. Guess who was still paying the price for his brother's indiscretion four years later in science class?

In the early 1980s, during one of my stints as editor of Bank Note Reporter, a monthly periodical for collectors of paper currency, my path would often cross at shows with that of a dealer whose personal collecting specialty was the obsolete bank notes of the state of Tennessee.

During an after-hours bull session at a hotel bar, this garrulous Southern gent once mentioned that he had played professional baseball with the Knoxville Smokies in the 1930s. Now the Southern Association, of which Knoxville was a part, was a Class A league in those days, just two steps below the majors.

Being suitably awed by knowing such a distinguished ballplayer, when I returned home from the show, I began scouring my reference set of Guides to extract the details of  my new hero's playing days. I was surprised that I couldn't find his name anywhere in those annals. I chalked it up to the fact that my friend may have had the proverbial cup of coffee at Knoxville, and thus didn't appear in the compiled stats.

Having learned my lesson in junior high, but mostly because I liked the putative ballplayer as a hobby friend and good ol' boy, I never mentioned to him my inability to verify his record.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

'60 Tulsa set expanded by two

Beginning March 1, and continuing on the 5th, 9th and 19th, we presented in this space information about several additions and enhancements to listings in the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards that resulted from a package of photocopies and data sent by Maryland collector Al Moore.

We recently received another group of goodies from Al's long-time collection and have begun sorting and processing the information. While we're currently working on getting a few answers about some of the items, we'll share with you what we find over the next week or 10 days.

Today we can report the addition of two cards to the 1960 Tulsa Oilers Team Issue of 4" x 5" black-and-white player portrait photos.

This set has been checklisted in the "big book" for most of the past 30 years, but only as an 18-card entity.

The two players added via Al Moore's latest contribution are Oilers pitchers Craig Anderson and Dick Hughes.

Anderson made the majors the following season with the parent St. Louis Cardinals, then was selected by the Mets in the expansion draft for 1962. He can also be found on a 1963 Topps card. His major league career record was 7-23 with a 5.10 ERA.

Hughes didn't get his shot in the bigs until 1966. He was on the Cards World Series championship team in 1967, contributing a 16-6 record to the effort. Hughes pitched only three seasons in the majors, with a 20-9 record and 2.79 ERA. He's on Topps cards each year 1967-69.

Tulsa was the Cardinals Class AA farm club in the Texas League. Many of the players were former or future major leaguers. While 20 seems like a nice round number for a team-issued set of this sort, it's not impossible that other cards may yet surface. Notably missing is team manager Vern Benson and former Cardinals bonus baby Von McDaniel..

Here's the now expanded checklist for the 1960 Tulsa Oiler Team Issue. Players with major league experience are indicated in bold.

1.   Craig Anderson
2.   Jim Beauchamp
3.   Bob Blaylock
4.   Artie Burnett
5.   Bill Carpenter
6.   Julio Gotay
7.   Jim Hickman
8.   Dick Hughes
9.   Ray Katt
10. Harry Keister
11. Fred Koenig
12. Gordon Richardson
13. Rich Rogers
14. Lynn Rube
15. Jim Schaffer
16. Clint Stark
17. Ted Thiem
18. Fred Walker
19. Harry Watts
20. Fred Whitfield 

The 1960 Tulsa cards are not particularly scarce. They carry a book value of $20 each in NM. Like other regional minor league sets of the era, however, finding a card of a particular player can be a lengthy process. As I like to say, paying for such cards is usually easier than finding them.

Monday, March 21, 2011

"Work release" for Tank Younger

Uncommon commons. Contemporary accounts of tidbits that as a collector of baseball and football cards I found interesting because they helped bring to life the faces on the cards I collected. I figure that if I found these items of interest, so would other vintage card collectors.

L.A. Rams fullback Paul "Tank" Younger played before his hometeam fans in the Jan. 10, 1953, Pro Bowl game.

Few of those fans, though, knew that Younger was in the game on something of a "work release" program. A Los Angeles judge had earlier sentenced Young to 14 days in jail for assault, plus a year on probation, but stayed the sentence so Younger could participate in the charity game.

Younger had been convicted of giving his mother-in-law, Neatheola Olermo, a "shove" after she had called him a "bum football player," and threw a Moscow Mule -- complete with copper mug -- at him.

Younger earned $600 playing in the game, which his National Conference team won, 27-7.

Later that year, Younger's 19-year-old wife Wylene sued him for divorce for the second time in their year-old marriage, alleging that he had struck her, "on numerous occasions."

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Not catalog material, but worth a look

We don't attempt to catalog most team-photo type of postcards and memorabilia in the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards.

Sure, there are some in there, but usually they are part of, or closely related to, card sets that feature individual players.

In the material that we recently received from Maryland collector Al Moore (see original entry March 1), there was a team-photo postcard that won't make it into the catalog, but is still of sufficient interest to be worth a look.

What sets this postcard apart from others of the genre is that it was overprinted for advertising use, and, it pictures a Hall of Fame player in his pre-major league days.

The card pictures the members of the 1908 Reading Pretzels (the team nickname possibly a play on the name of owner Jacob Weitzel), including Frank "Home Run" Baker (top row, fourth from right).

At Reading in 1908, the 22-year-old Baker was in his second year of professional baseball. After the Pretzels finished fourth in the Tri-State League (Class B), Baker began his Hall of Fame career when he was called up to the Philadelphia A's in September.

With Reading, Baker had batted .299 with six home runs (tied for sixth in the league).

Friday, March 18, 2011

Pratt was 'Bama's first MLB star

Uncommon commons. In 2006 I purchased a complete set of The Sporting News and The Sporting Life newspaper microfilms from 1886 through the early 1970s. I figured they would be a great source of entertainment when I eventually retired. In my years at Krause Publications I had used the films to research feature articles and columns that appeared in SCD and Baseball Cards magazine. In that process I discovered that each issue of those venerable sports weeklies had many tidbits that as a collector of baseball and football cards I found interesting because they helped bring to life the faces on the cards I collected. I figured that if I found those items of interest, so would other vintage card collectors, so from time to time I compiled my notes into columns that I called "Uncommon Commons." I've decided to continue that tradition in this forum because a blog is tailor-made to host these short pieces and because it is easy to share images of some great old cards that may not be worth a lot of money, but that have an appeal to veteran collectors.

It is generally considered that Derrill Pratt was the first University of Alabama graduate to become a star in major league baseball.
Pratt rolled with the Tide in 1908-09 before embarking on a 13-year major league career. Pratt transferred to Alabama after two years at Georgia Institute of Technology. While he played baseball at 'Bama, Pratt was better known in his day for gridiron play.
In 1908-09 Pratt lettered in football, playing fullback and defensive back. His most significant contributions, though, were as the team's kicker. He was Alabama's punter and place kicker, especially adept at the now defunct art of drop kicking field goals.
In the final game of Alabama's 6-1-1 season of 1908, Pratt attempted four field goals against Tennessee. He made only one, but it was enough to give the Tide a 4-0 win. That was the last year of a five-year era in which field goals were worth four points.
Named captain of the Alabama team for 1909, Pratt broke the conference (at that time, the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association) record on Oct. 16 when his 49-yard field goal beat Clemson 3-0. Two weeks later, when Alabama defeated Georgia 14-0, Pratt broke his own record with a 50-yard field goal.

That was the end of Pratt's college football career, however, as he was ruled ineligible for the final three games of the season due to "faculty trouble." The specific nature of that trouble is not readily discernible a century after the fact.

It's possible Pratt may have been something of a rebel or rabble rouser as a player. While playing for the St. Louis Browns in 1917, Pratt and teammate Doc Lavan each sued the club's owner for $50,000, alleging slander when the magnate accused some of his players of intentionally playing poorly to force them to be traded. The Sporting News labeled Pratt as "the Browns' Trotsky." After the suit was settled, reportedly in the players' favor, Pratt was traded to the New York Yankees, along with future Hall of Fame pitcher Eddie Plank. (Plank never reported to the Yankees, retiring instead.)

With limited opportunities and no money to be made in pro football in those pre-NFL days, Pratt began his professional baseball career in 1910 at Hattiesburg in the Cotton States League. Pratt hit for a .367 average in that Class D for a month before being sold to Montgomery in the Class A Southern Association.

After hitting .316 for Montgomery in 1911, Pratt was sold to the St. Louis Browns for 1912. He remained with the Browns through 1917, mostly as their regular second baseman. In 1916 he led the American League with 103 RBIs.

Pratt spent the 1918-20 seasons with the Yankees, then announced he was giving up pro ball to go to the University of Michigan as head baseball coach, assistant football coach and freshman basketball coach.

He was persuaded to return to big-league baseball by a trade to the Boston Red Sox for the 1921 season. In two seasons there, he batted .312, then was traded to the Detroit Tigers for 1923-24, at which time he dropped out of the major leagues.

An interesting bit of trivia about Pratt is that he made the last out in two no-hitters. On July 4, 1912, he was the last man Detroit's George Mullin faced. On April 14, 1917, he was the last out for Eddie Cicotte of the White Sox.

Pratt took the job managing the Waco Cubs in the Texas League in 1925. He became a playing manager (regular second baseman) in 1926. In 1927, when the team finished second, Pratt won the Texas League Triple Crown at age 39 with a .386 batting average, 32 home runs and 140 RBIs. He played for and managed Waco through the 1930 season, in which he batted .374 at age 42. He spent two seasons (1931-32) as player-manager of Galveston, also in the Texas League, before ending his playing days. After a year off, he returned to the Texas League, managing the 1934 Ft. Worth Cats to a seventh place finish before hanging up his spikes for good.    

 In later years, he was a scout, high school football coach, bowling alley and sporting good store manager and owned a gas station in Galveston. He died in Texas in 1977 at the age of 89.

Del Pratt's major league career began at the very end of the cigarette card era, but he does appear in the 1914 B18 set of felts. Playing in the heyday of caramel card issues, he appears in some of those sets including the 1922 American Caramel Co. (E120) and 1915 Cracker Jack.  

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Frick would've made Barker a HoFer

Uncommon commons. Contemporary accounts of tidbits that as a collector of baseball and football cards I found interesting because they helped bring to life the faces on the cards I collected. I figure that if I found these items of interest, so would other vintage card collectors.

If a suggestion made by then-Commission Ford Frick had been adopted by the Hall of Fame, Len Barker -- a lifetime 74-76, 4.34 ERA pitcher -- would have a plaque in Cooperstown.

When Hall of Fame balloting was being announced in early 1953, Frick, picking up on a suggestion from a sports writer, proposed that any pitcher who threw an official perfect game, and any batter who hit .400 or better for a season, should be immediately inducted into the Hall of Fame.

At the time of Frick's suggestion, that would have added five pitchers to the HoF roster, only two of whom were subsequently elected. In 1953, there had been six perfect games recognized. The pitchers were Lee Richmond and Monte Ward in 1880, and in the "modern era," Cy Young, Addie Joss, Ernie Shore and Charlie Robertson.

Young was already a Hall of Famer in 1953, and Joss and Ward would eventually be enshrined. You have to wonder what the Hall would have done with Ernie Shore's plaque when he later lost recognition of his perfect-o, because he had come in to relieve Babe Ruth after a first-inning walk, the base runner had been caught stealing and Shore retired the next 26 batters.

Since 1953, there have been perfect games pitched by (in order): Don Larsen, Jim Bunning, Sandy Koufax, Catfish Hunter, Len Barker, Mike Witt, Tom Browning, Dennis Martinez, Kenny Rogers, David Wells, David Cone, Randy Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Dallas Braden and Roy Halladay.

Bunning, Koufax and Hunter, of course, have joined the Hall of Fame. Randy Johnson will, no doubt do so, and the jury is still out on Braden and Halladay.

In 1953, there were 29 players who had batted .400 or more over the course of a season. Twenty of those hitters were already in the Hall of Fame, or would eventually be inducted. Those .400 hitters who never made the Hall were: Tip O'Neill, Pete Browning, Bob Caruthers, Yank Robinson, Denny Lyons, Fred Dunlap, Reddy Mack, Oyster Burns and Ross Barnes, and the lone 20th Century player on the .400+ list who never made the Hall of Fame, Joe Jackson.

Frick probably didn't anticipate that Ted Williams' .406 mark in 1941 would be the last .400+ season average to this day.

When the Hall of Fame officials met at the July induction ceremonies, Frick's suggestion was officially voted down. At the same time it was decided that a player had to be retired for five years before becoming eligible. A new veteran's committee of 11 baseball men was created to consider candidates who were 25 years or more removed from the playing field. 

In the Hall of Fame balloting in 1953, when a then-record 264 votes were cast by the baseball writers, Dizzy Dean and Al Simmons were elected. Joe DiMaggio, in his first year of eligibility (a player only had to be retired for one year to be considered at that time), was eighth in the voting, garnering 44.3% of the votes. 

All 13 of the top vote-getters in the 1953 BBWAA balloting for 1953 eventually were inducted. The player highest in the vote total that year who has not since been inducted, was Hank Gowdy, at #14.

Arky Vaughan, who received only one vote in the 1953 election, was voted in by the Veterans' Committee in 1985.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

'55 Leafs photo set reported

A couple of days ago we presented a newly reported vintage minor league team issue for the 1947 Hollywood Stars. This time out we have another "new" set issued 50+ years ago.

This report also comes courtesy of Bob Thing, a veteran collector from Maine.

Bob has sent photocopies of six of what appear to be a player photo set, possibly issued by team as a souvenir item, of the 1955 Toronto Maple Leafs of the International League.

The black-and-white cards are printed on thick paper with scalloped or deckle edges and measure about 3-1/2" x 5-1/2". Pictures are portraits or posed action shots. Printed in the white border at bottom is "PHOTO BY GILBERT STUDIO TORONTO". Some of the pictures have facsimile signatures on front. Two of the photocopies sent have player signatures hand-applied in blue; whether they are autographs or just identification of the players by a former owner is not known. Backs are blank.

The six players confirmed at this time are: Ed Blake, Pete Castiglione, Mike Goliat, John Hetki, Sam Jethroe and Lew Morton. How many different players were issued remains unknown.

Of the 29 players on the Leafs roster in 1955, 24 had or would have major league experience, and many will be found on Topps and Bowman cards of the Fifties.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Gorman Thomas pre-rookie custom created

I've concluded my recent four-card "Brewers binge" of custom card creations with a 1972-style card for Gorman Thomas.

There's no doubt Gorman was my all-time favorite Brewer. He was also my daughter's first baseball hero. On her 5th birthday in 1984 we went to Milwaukee County Stadium for a game during Thomas' first visit back to Milwaukee after he had been traded to the Indians. We even snagged a batting practice foul ball from our seats down past the visitors dugout near field level.

Gorman was a big favorite in Milwaukee because of his blue-collar image and his big home runs. (We tended to quickly forget the many strikeouts.)

Thomas made his big-league debut in 1973, and appeared on his first Topps card in 1974. Making a '73-style custom would have probably been more appropriate, but I really hate that format, and when I found an early Thomas photo it just cried out for treatment in the funky 1972 format.

I bought a cheap '72 Brewer card on eBay and scanned the front. I spent several hours cleaning up the registration before I decided that made my card look too clean. So in the end I opted for just switching out the photos and changing the name.

You'd have to be a die-hard '72 collector and have one at hand to know that I wasn't able to exactly duplicate the font Topps had used for the name.

Together with the 1971 and 1977 Cecil Cooper cards and the 1974 Robin Yount, this custom concludes my run of '70s Brewers creations . . . at least until I find a good early Paul Molitor photo, or maybe a Jim Gantner.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Bonus baby busted for parking tickets

Uncommon commons. Based on contemporary accounts from The Sporting News; tidbits that as a collector of baseball and football cards I found interesting because they help bring to life the faces on the cards I collected. I figure that if I found these items of interest, so would other vintage card collectors.

A couple of days back we featured Jack Parks, a player who appeared on both regular and Doubleheaders Topps cards in 1955, but never had a major league appearance. Here's another player in the same situation.

Scouts called Tom Casagrande the "next Babe Ruth," when he was being recruited out of Fordham University. At over 6'2" and 210 lbs., he was not only a powerful pitcher, but also swung a big bat.

The Phillies won the bidding war by paying Casagrande a $40,000 bonus, with an eye towards converting him to a slugging first base replacement for Eddie Waitkis if he didn't make it as a major league pitcher.

In his first pro season, in 1951, he was hitting only .238 for Class B Wilmington when he was sent to the mound for his start in pro ball on June 6. He gave up six hits and eight runs before being relieved in the fifth inning. He was tagged with the 11-3 loss.

He won his next start five days later, and ended the season with a 14-7.  

During spring training at Clearwater, Fla., in 1953, Casagrande's teammates were surprised one evening when local police scooped up the youngster at the team's hotel and took him downtown. 

At the police station, the Phillies' prospect was faced with the choice of paying a $50 bond for half a dozen overdue parking tickets, or spending the night in a cell. It seemed Casagrande was in the habit of parking in a metered lot at the spring training facility, but only putting in the first nickel, then letting the meter expire during the day. 

Casagrande was able to pull the $50 bond out of wallet, but he lost the money when the team went north three days before his court appearance, and he had to forfeit the bond.

Casagrande played seven seasons in the minor leagues. He had three stints with the Phillies' organization, 1951-53, 1955 and 1957, also spending time in the farm systems of the Boston Red Sox (1954-55) and Washington Senators (1956). He had a lifetime minor league pitching record of 50-37 with a 3.27 ERA. His batting never reached Ruthian levels; his career mark was .241.

Among the highlights of Casagrande's pro career were a pair of no-hitters he pitched just a month apart in 1951. The first was a 10-inning no-hitter on July 19, 1951, for Wilmington of the Inter-State League against the York White Roses. Casagrande lost the game when York scored in the bottom of the 11th inning. On Aug. 20, Casagrande pitched a seven-inning ho-hitter in the first half of a double-header against Harrisburg. He won that game 4-0.

After baseball Casagrande was a railroad brakeman and conductor.

The regular 1955 Topps card was his only major baseball card appearance.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Jack Parks was a major league no-show

Uncommon commons. Based on contemporary accounts from The Sporting News; tidbits that as a collector of baseball and football cards I found interesting because they help bring to life the faces on the cards I collected. I figure that if I found these items of interest, so would other vintage card collectors.

Despite the fact that he had two 1955 Topps cards, in the regular set and the Doubleheaders, picturing him with the Milwaukee Braves, catcher Jack Parks never appeared in a major league game.

Topps' writers jumped the gun in writing the back of his 1955 card, by saying "Jack's getting his first Big League opportunity in '55 . . . " The bubblegum company also erred in labeling his stats at bottom as "MAJOR LEAGUE BATTING RECORD". In fact, the stats reflected Parks' 1954 season with the Braves' two top farm clubs, at Atlanta and Toledo.

With Del Crandall a fixture behind the plate following his return to the Braves in 1953, the back-up backstop position was a revolving door for journeyman catchers throughout the 1950s and early 1960s. While many of those second-stringers found their way onto baseball cards in the era, most never enjoyed significant success in the major leagues. Unlike Parks, though, at least guys like Paul Burris, Charlie White, Bob Roselli and Carl Sawatski had major league playing time to go with their Topps cards.

The Braves gave Parks several opportunities in spring training to make the team, but he always ended up returning to the minors when the season opened. Performances such as that displayed against the Brooklyn Dodgers in a spring game in 1953 didn't bolster Parks' reputation for defense.

In a loss to the Brooklyn Dodgers. Parks allowed seven stolen bases, five of which came in the sicth inning, when Brooklyn scored six runs on four hits, two walks and a hit batsman. In that game Parks was stolen on by Don Hoak (twice), Jackie Robinson, Gil Hodges, Chuck Thompson, Pee Wee Reese and Carmer Mauro.

Parks began playing professionally at the age of 16 in 1944 with a Giants Class D team. He played 18 seasons in the minor leagues, along with several seasons of Latin winter ball, without ever getting a major league appearance.  He was Boston/Milwaukee Braves property from 1952 into 1955. During his playing days he was at one time or another a minor league player in the organizations of the Giants, Pirates, A's (Philadelphia and Kansas City), Red Sox, Phillies, Senators, Orioles and Tigers. He retired after the 1961 season, at the age of 33. He hit a lifetime .256 and exhibited just enough power (hitting as many as 25 home runs in a season) to keep his dream alive for nearly 20 years.

Because he was pictured with the Braves on his 1955 cards, Parks had special status with me as a young collector, even if I wasn't aware that he never made the majors.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Generic '47 Signal Twinks Discovered

An heretofore uncataloged vintage minor league issue has been reported by Maine collector Bob Thing.

While it is unsure how the set was distributed, it is possible, likely even, that it was a team-issue.

The newly reported set is a repurposing of the artwork done by period baseball cartoon artist Al Demaree, who, as noted under his signature line on each card, was a "PITCHER N.Y. GIANTS - 1912-19." Actually, while those dates define the range of Demaree's big league career, he also pitched for the Phillies, Cubs and Braves in that span.

One of several 1930s and 1940s baseball card sets for which Demaree provided artwork was the 89-card Pacific Coast League issue sponsored by Signal Gasoline and local radio stations in 1947, comprising between 16-20 cards of each of five PCL teams.

Those gas station giveaway cards were in an horizontal format of about 5-9/16" x 3-1/2".

That's the same size as the central portion of the newly reported set. The format of the "new" set has the artwork centered on an 8" x 6" card printed on thin semi-gloss cardboard. Above the cartoon is "STUDYING THE STARS By AL DEMAREE".

The Studying the Stars cards differ from the Signal gasoline version in that the latter have a Signal logo somewhere on the front. The gas cards also have printing on the back that includes player biographical and career information, along with sponsors' advertising. The newly reported set has blank backs.

Bob sent photocopies of eight Studying the Stars cards. The Signal team set comprised 20 cards. It is not known whether the blank-backed "generic" version shares the same checklist. It will be interesting to see whether a team-issue Woody Williams is ever found.

Williams' card is one of the scarcest of the short-prints in the 1947 Signal series. It was probably pulled from distribution when Williams left Hollywood for Indianapolis in midseason 1947.

Assigning a "book value" to the team-issue Stars cards is a theoretical exercise. There's no doubt they are much scarcer than the Signal ad-back version, but the generics are likely to have considerably less popularity. Unless some market history develops in the interim, we'll probably start the Studying the Stars cards out on a par with the Signals in the 2013 book.

The eight cards for which we have confirmation are: Ed Albosta, Jim Delsing, manager Jimmy Dykes, Frank Kelleher, Joe Krakauskas, Al Libke, Andy Skurski and Gus Zernial. 

Friday, March 11, 2011

Mr. Fricano, meet Mr. Newsom. A-W-K-W-A-R-D

Uncommon commons. Contemporary accounts of tidbits that as a collector of baseball and football cards I found interesting because they helped bring to life the faces on the cards I collected. I figure that if I found these items of interest, so would other vintage card collectors.

When peripatetic pitcher Bobo Newsom entered the clubhouse of the Philadelphia Athletics in mid-June, 1952, he didn't need to be introduced to moundmate Marion Fricano, who had joined the team a month earlier.

The pair had pitched in the Southern Association the previous year . . . and Fricano had committed upon Newsom an unforgivable breach of the baseball players' unwritten code of conduct.

There were two out in the bottom of the ninth inning when Mobile Bears pitcher Marion Fricano came to the plate. On the mound, 43-year-old Birmingham Barons pitcher Bobo Newsom was holding onto a 1-0 lead. He also had a no-hitter going.

Desperate to give himself a chance to win the game, and with two strikes on him, Fricano laid down a bunt single, breaking up the no-hitter. The next batter up doubled, but Newsom hung on for the shutout win.

When the two became teammates the following year, Newsom had to make nice with Fricano for the benefit of the local press, but being an old-school southern ballplayer it seems doubtful he really forgave Fricano for the faux pas.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Another custom Cooper card

A couple of days ago I mentioned that I would be working up a Cecil Cooper card from his Red Sox days.

Here it is . . . in the style of 1971 Topps, a year prior to his "real" rookie card.

I notice that Topps never made a 1973 Cecil Cooper card, but I'm not going to tackle that.

Did you know that in the November, 1970, Rule 5 minor league draft that the St. Louis Cardinals selected Cooper? They returned him to the Red Sox before the 1971 season.

ADDENDUM (April 14, 2011):
Illinois reader Eric Loy has just directed me to a Topps eBay auction offering a photo of Coop in a St. Louis Cardinals uniform.

It surprises me that Topps would even have shot such a photo, since Cooper was only with the Cardinals from the November minor league draft until April 5, 1971, when he was returned to the Red Sox.

If the Topps photo was really appealing, I'd consider making a Coop-as-Cardinal custom card in the 1971 style, but the photo just doesn't do it for me.