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.

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