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.

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