Saturday, April 30, 2011

Dancing with the Stars, 1950s style

More than 50 years before guys like Evander Holyfield, Emmitt Smith, Clyde Drexler, Jerry Rice and other athletes appeared on Dancing with the Stars, star baseball players were hoofing it on national television.

On April 26, 1953, John Mize, Billy Martin and Bobby Thomson appeared on the half-hour prime time program Arthur Murray's Dance Party on the DuMont television network.

That program, really just one long commercial for Murray's syndicated chain of ballroom dance instructional studios, had the ballplayers dancing with Mrs. Kathryn Murray and other women in the cast.

Later that season, on June 28, Martin reprised his appearance, joined by teammates Mickey Mantle, Ed Lopat and Allie Reynolds.

Yankees manager Casey Stengel was reported to have been particularly unhappy with the timing of his players' appearance dancing on live TV. That day the Yankees had lost their seventh straight game at home.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Board game card may be Reese's rarest

While Pee Wee Reese appeared in many scarce and rare card issues over the course of his lengthy (1940-1958) career with the Brooklyn and L.A. Dodgers, his rarest card may be that which originated in a mid-1950s board game based on a television game show.

Masquarade Party was a half-hour game show that appeared (at various times on CBS, NBC and ABC) between 1952-60 on prime time television.

The show's premise was that a celebrity would appear in costume and make-up before a  panel of other celebrities (you know, the professional "game show "celebrities like Betsy Palmer, Jonathan Winters, Ogden Nash, etc.) who would ask a series of questions to try to determine the identity of man (or woman) behind the mask. For each secod that the costumed celeb stumped the panel, a dollar was earned, usually donated to a favorite charity.

The game was pretty standard stuff for its era, but in 2001, it was voted 8th on TV Guide's list of 50 Greatest TV Game Shows.

According to some tidbits I found in two 1953 issues of The Sporting News, at least two major league baseball figures were guest stars on the program in 1953, and there is evidence in the form of a board game, that at least one other player appeared on the show circa 1955 or earlier.

On June 22, 1953, a masked figure in Elizabethan garb, complete with flowing cape, was brought on stage by emcee Douglas Edwards. After $239 worth of time had elapsed, it was revealed that the caped figure was New York Yankees star Mickey Mantle. The clue was the cape, or mantel, that Mantle wore. The Mick donated his prize winnings to the Police Athletic League of New York City.

Later that season, on Aug. 17, a pair of figures dressed as a lion and lioness appeared on the show. Questioning eventually revealed that the faux felines were New York Giants manager Leo (Get it? Leo the lion?) and his wife, actress Larraine Day. The $285 that the duo won was donated to the Texas Children's Home Society.

I could find no record of when Dodgers' captain Pee Wee Reese appeared on the game show, but his inclusion in a 1955 board game based on the show indicates he had done so.

The board game was published by Betty B. Products and the base set included 16 (sometimes 24) game card pieces that had colorful masquaraded figures on front. Evidently, correctly answered questions allowed the game card's hinged flaps to be opened one at a time until the identity of the secret celebrity was revealed. "Fun for the whole family!" Besides the pieces that game with the boxed set, extra sets of game cards could be ordered from the game's manufacturer.

Long-time Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards contributor Tim Pulcifer has acquired the Pee Wee Reese game card from the board game. It is #12 from among an issue of undetermined scope. He also confirms the existence of a Durocher-Day card.

The Reese card is about 3-1/2" wide at top, tapering to 3" at bottom. Folded, the card is about 7-1/2" tall; open, it is 15-1/4."

Whether a Mickey Mantle card was ever issued with the game, or any other sports celebrities, is unknkown. The web site BoardGame Geek lists the Masquarade Party board game as "very rare."

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Newest custom: 1956 Frank Robinson "rookie"

Since I originally collected them as a five-year old, I have always counted the 1956 Topps cards as among my favorite baseball card sets.

They are, however, among the hardest customs for me to make.

Frank Robinson's "real" rookie card, of course, was in the 1957 Topps set. He did have a regional rookie card, however, in the 1956 Kahn's Wieners set.

That Kahn's card is where I lifted the autograph for my '56 creation.

You might recognize the background of my card as having been used another '56T Redlegs card, Ted Kluszewski. I gave Big Klu a racial transplant to more closely match Robinson's skin color.

The cartoons on back are from the Frank House (left) and Jimmy Piersall (right) cards. I had to make the center cartoon from a piece of clip art. Purists might note that the basketball cartoon is not a perfect fit for the style of cartoons found on the '56s, but it was as close as I could get.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Bathtub gin bottle causes collector's backslide

Earlier this winter I backslid (backslud? backslided?) on a collection that I had disposed of six or eight years ago.

In the late 1990s, about the time I discovered eBay, I began a collection of memorabilia related to the thoroughbred champion Twenty Grand. The collection began at a Chattanooga antique mall where I found a large, about 2' x 3' cardboard advertising display sign for Twenty Grand cigarettes. The thick cardboard sign had a self-folding "frame" and a large color portrait of the horse that won the Kentucky Derby in 1931. 

I soon added a large Sunday litho color picture from the Montreal newspaper La Presse, and the hunt was on.

Twenty Grand was bred in 1928 at Helen Hay Whitney's Greentree Stable in Lexington, Ky.

Trained by James G. Rowe, Jr. and ridden by jockey Charley Kurtsinger, the three-year-old Twenty Grand in 1931 won the Wood Memorial Stakes, Kentucky Derby, Belmont Stakes, Dwyer Stakes, Travers Stakes, Saratoga Cup, and the Jockey Club Gold Cup. He just missed the Triple Crown after finishing second to Mate in the Preakness.

The big bay won 14 of his 25 races, finished second four times and third three times. He was retired to stud but proved to be sterile. He lived for 20 years.

In 1957, he was elected to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.

There are many contemporary and retrospective accounts of Twenty Grand's career, so I won't go into it in this space, though I do recommend you look it up if you enjoy horse racing or a good American athletic story.

Perhaps because he was something of a "Cinderella Story" in thoroughbred racing, Twenty Grand caught the fancy of the American public. His story and his successes were a bright spot amidst the national gloom of the Great Depression.

As a collector, I was amazed at the scope of items issued throughout the 1930s and 1940s that carried Twenty Grand's name or image. I'm sure there were more commercial products trading on Twenty Grand's fame than any contemporary athlete. And why not? At a time when Babe Ruth was bringing down an $80,000 salary from the Yankees, Twenty Grand had earnings of over $260,000.

I doubt, though, that Twenty Grand's owners ever saw much in the way of revenue from all the products that bore his name. I'd guess that perhaps the Axton-Fisher tobacco company, that introduced Twenty Grand brand cigarettes as an economy brand in June, 1932, probably paid royalties to the Whitneys, but I don't think most of the other products did.

And, boy, were there a lot of other products. Besides many advertising items for Twenty Grand cigarettes such as posters, pinback buttons, matchbooks, cigarette packs, etc., there were picture postcards, razor blades, batteries, aspirin, ale and even a bard game. A top of the line Duesenberg automobile introduced in 1933 quickly acquired the nickname of Twenty Grand, though whether in reference to the race horse or its reputed price tag is unclear.

Besides examples of all the Twenty Grand branded consumer merchandise, my collection included blood horse magazines, programs from his races and latter-day collectibles in glass, ceramics and fine art.

After collecting for nearly 10 years, my Twenty Grand accumulation had reached the point where there was seldom anything new to add (at least in my price range), so I packed it all up and donated it to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame at Saratoga, N.Y.

I'm at a loss, then, to explain my recent purchase of a 2 oz. bottle of Twenty Grand "non-alcoholic concentrated gin imitation artificial flavor and color." I found the bottle on one of my infrequent nostalgic eBay searches for Twenty Grand collectibles. I had never encountered this item previously in my heyday of collecting 20G items.

This little (about 4" tall and 1-3/8" square) thick glass bottle is a remnant of Prohibition. While making homemade hootch was a popular hobby in the dry decades between 1919-1933, if the amateur booze had any taste at all, it was usually awful.

To give the illegal homebrew some semblance of similarity to types of liquor popular before the 18th Amendment became law, an entire industry sprang up to make and offer artificial flavorings that could be added to the white lightning. Popular men's magazines of the era, such as Police Gazette, had dozens of ads selling the little bottles of moonshine taste enhancers. Besides the gin, there were additives to mimic brandy, whiskey and other liquor shelf staples.

According to the label, this bottle of artificial gin additive was "sufficient to flavor nine finished quarts." It probably sold for a quarter or 50 cents.

There is still about a half-inch of urine-colored liquid in my tightly corked bottle. I haven't had the courage to pull the cork to see what the stuff smells like after nearly 70 years. Since Prohibition was repealed in 1933, and Twenty Grand was at the peak of his popularity in 1931, this product probably didn't enjoy too long a life in commerce; maybe that's why I hadn't previously encountered it.

I think rather than forwarding this to the Hall of Fame, I'll add it to my cabinet of vintage beer and liquor collectibles. That collection tends towards the politically incorrect type of booze memorabilia. Someday mayble I'll scandalize you by publishing pictures of some of it.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Supplementing Topps' Adcock issues

As I kid, I had a love-hate relationship with Joe Adcock. Actually, those words are too strong; call it a like-dislike relationship.

In the early-mid 1950s my favorite baseball player was George Crowe. It was the glasses . . . by the second grade I was a "four eyes."

I liked Joe Adcock because he was a Milwaukee Brave. I disliked him because he stood in the way of George Crowe playing regularly.

Adcock must have had a like-dislike relationship with Topps. He made his major league debut in 1950 with the Cincinnati Reds. He appeared on Bowman bubblegum cards every year from 1950-1955. His only Topps card in that span was among the high numbers in 1952.

After Topps swallowed up Bowman, Adcock appeared in every Topps set from 1956-1963. He was one of the 66 players who appeared in Fleer's abortive 1963 set. Pictured as a Milwaukee Brave, but listed as a Cleveland Indian, to whom he had been traded after the 1962 season. His '63 Fleer card appears to have been pulled from the printing sheet in the midst of the set run, being replaced with the checklist card.

When Fleer (temporarily) withdrew from the baseball player card market and most of the players from the 1963 returned to the Topps fold, Adcock was nowhere to be found.

While his major league playing career continued with the Los Angeles/California Angels from 1964-66, Adcock didn't appear on another Topps card until 1967, among the high numbers as manager of the Cleveland Indians. After just one season as a major league manager, finishing eighth in the 10-team American League, Adcock managed the 1968 season at Seattle, the top farm club of the Angels, then returned to his horse farm in Louisiana. 

I guess we'll never know whether it was Adcock's decision or Topps' decision that prevented him from appearing as an Angels player in 1964-66. But just because he wasn't on a card, that doesn't mean Topps didn't photograph him in his Angels uniform.

A transparency of Adcock taken in 1964 appeared a while back in the Topps Vault auctions on eBay. I thought it would work well incorporated into the 1964 Topps design, so I made it happen. I always liked the rather clean design of the '64T baseball set, but this was my first foray into the format. There will probably be more.

When SCD co-sponsored a major card show in Milwaukee in 1985, two of our out-of-town autograph guests were former Braves Eddie Mathews and Joe Adcock. Writer Paul Green, who had done a wonderful interview with Adcock as part of the series that ran for years in SCD, convinced Adcock to leave his beloved ranch to make his first (and as far as I know, only) autograph guest appearance.

As the time for Adcock's appearance began to draw near on Saturday afternoon, without having heard a word from Adcock , we began to worry about whether he had actually gotten on the plane in Louisiana. 

We'd had some decent media coverage about Adcock's first return to Milwaukee in many years and had sold more than a few autograph tickets. While it wasn't yet time to panic, I began to formulate a Plan B.

At that time, my father lived about an hour north of Milwaukee. At 6'2" he was a couple of inches shorter than Adcock, but he had more than a passing resemblance to the lanky former first baseman, and seated behind a table, the hieght difference would not be noticable. Dad was a knowledgeable baseball fan who had followed the Braves closely in the 1950s and 1960s, and I convinced myself that about the only persons at the show who might be able to tell the difference would be his former teammates. He would be able to bluff his way through questions from the autograph line. I hadn't thought through how we'd keep Dad away from Mathews and Johnny Logan and Felix Mantilla, but I'd almost commited to this large-scale forgery plot when Adcock and Green walked through the convention center door without a minute to spare.

Regretably, more than 25 years later, I have no memory of having spent any amount of time with Adcock at the autograph booth or in the hospitality room. I suppose I was too busy attending to show details. What a waste of opportunity.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Uncataloged '30s bubblegum set reported

If there was such a thing as "broders" (i.e., any unauthorized collectors' issue baseball cards) in the 1930s, these would be them.

They come to our attention via Pennsylvania collector John Rumierz, who has been sharing his lifetime collection of rare vintage baseball cards in this forum in recent months.

The cards appear to be an issue of American Boy gum, circa 1934. A cursory search of the brand on Google produced no information. I suppose it's not impossible there was a tie between the gum and the magazine by that name that was published in the 1930s, but I'd bet there isn't.

Rumierz says he bought these cards many years ago" in an old-time collection in Windsor, Ontario, Detroit's Canadian neighbor to the south. He said all of the cards in the collection were American, not Canadian. He reports he has not subsequently seen any other American Boy baseball cards.

Rumierz describes the cards as "a low-budget production" and although they are undated, he thinks they may have been issued in response to the Tigers American League pennant win in 1934 and/or their World Series title in 1935. He says they are about the size of contemporary Goudey, Diamond Stars, etc., baseball bubblegum cards, i.e., about 2-3/8" x 2-7/8".

Wording on the back of the cards indicates these were packaged with gum, probably bubblegum, and that the wrappers could be exchanged at the store for a foreign coin.

There's no indication, such as a card number, to indicate how many baseball cards may have been in the set or if, indeed, any team other than the Tigers was represented. It is also unknown whether this was a local, regional or (unlikely) national issue.

The cards were apparently unknown to Jefferson Burdick when he was compiling the American Card Catalog in the late 1930s, so there is no R-series designation for them.

John's stated purpose in sharing this information with the hobby is to solicit input from other collectors on these obscure issues. So, if you have anything to add to the conversation, please feel free to email me at

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Bad timing for spitballer Shellenback

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.

Whether it was just bad luck or bad timing, Frank Shellenback picked a bad time to test the will of Charles Comiskey in a salary dispute. Though he hadn't had a winning season with the White Sox in either 1918 (9-12) or 1919 (1-3), Shellenback held out for a better contract in 1920 and thus was not on the White Sox roster on opening day.

Problem was, that was the date on which a spitball pitcher had to be "registered" as such to continue to throw the pitch in the major leagues under a grandfather clause. And the spitter was Frank Shellenback's money pitch.

The outlawing of the spitball thus trapped Shellenback permanently in the minor leagues, specifically in the Pacific Coast League, since most league's went along with MLB in banning "new" pitchers from throwing the wet one. 

From the day he turned pro out of Santa Clara College, Shellenback never pitched in a lower minor league. At age 18 in 1917 he pitched for Providence in the International League and Milwaukee in the American Association, both Class AA leagues, at that time the highest minor league level. He was a combined 12-9.

In 1918-1919 he split time between Minneapolis (Amer. Assn.) and the White Sox. With the Millers in those two seasons he had an 8-5 record.

While on his salary holdout in early 1920, Shellenback was pitching for Vernon in his first year in the Pacific Coast League. He finished his professional career in the PCL 18 years later, never having another appearance in the major leagues.

Statistically, Shellenback is arguably the best pitcher in PCL history. In 18 seasons he won 296 games, a record for a pitcher in any minor league. In that time he lost 177 games. His overall minor league record was 316-191 with an ERA of 3.56. 

In a lengthy feature about Shellenback in 1953,The Sporting News reported that at one point in his PCL career, Shellenback won 34 out of 35 games.

Now, I've learned that sometimes what was printed in TSN has to be taken with a grain of salt, and while a lengthy perusal of box scores could confirm or refute that report, it isn't a high enough priority of mine to put in that time.

The paper reported that while with the Hollywood Stars, beginning with his game on May 18, 1930, Shellenback won 14 in a row to the end of the season. He opened the 1931 season with five more consecutive wins, before taking a loss, then winning another 15 in a row.

While not discounting those wins, Shellenback was reported to have been especially proud that every one of those wins was a complete-game victory.

Frank Shellenback in the 1960s.

At the end of his pitching days, Shellenback had been playing-manager for Hollywood in 1935 and San Diego, 1936-1938. In 1936-37 at San Diego, Shellenback was Ted Williams' first manager in professional baseball.

After his pitching days, Shellenback managed Minneapolis for part of the 1948 season. In the early 1950s he was Leo Durocher's pitching coach on the New York Giants. From 1956-1959 he was the N.Y./S.F. Giants' director of minor league personnel, then scouted for the team through 1969. In 1943 he was elected to the Pacific Coast League Hall of Fame.

While it's possible Shellenback may have appeared on some obscure card with the White Sox in 1918-1919, I no longer have access to my player-card data base, and nothing specific comes to mind.

During his PCL days, he appeared in nine years of the Zeenuts dynasty -- 1920, 1923-1926, 1928, 1921-1933 -- though his name was misspelled Schellenback in 1920, and Shellenbach in 1925-1926. The card shown here is from the very scarce Exhibit Supply Co. set of 32 PCL players issued in 1928.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Third Fans cigarettes card reported

Gee! At this rate we should have this set checklisted in about 1,500 years.

Only the third known card in the set issued in 1922 by Fans cigarettes has been reported by Pennsylvania collector John Rumierz.

Fans came late to the cigarette card game, about a decade after the genre's heyday. Jefferson Burdick knew of the issue, giving it the American Card Catalog designation of T231.

Until 1992, only a single card had been reported in the hobby, and the evidence of its existence was a photocopy of the front and back. That was card #85 Carson Bigbee. The existence of that card is today unknown, or at least unknown to those of us who practice the hobby in the wilds of Wisconsin.

In 1992, a Fans card of Frank Baker, #61, surfaced. It is owned by Texas type collector Leon Luckey.

Now comes the confirmation of the existence of a third card. The player depicted is Cleveland Indians' infielder Larry Gardner. According to the back of the card, Gardner was the "leading batter of all 3rd basemen." 

According to the back, the holder of the card "selected" Gardner in some sort of mail-away contest or offer, the details of which are unknown 90 years later. It can be assumed that the send-away nature of these cards contributes to the rarity of survivors today.

What is presumed to be the card number, 65, of the Gardner card falls between the previously cataloged Baker and Bigbee cards. It is probably reasonable to assume that there were at least 85 cards originally issued in the set.

Fans cards are printed in black-and-white in a format of about 1-1/2" x 2-1/2."

Rumierz said he purchased the card nearly 30 years ago at one of the legendary Willow Grove shows. The seller was a New Jersey dealer, the late Tom Reid. John is in the process of reorganizing his lifelong collection of vintage cards and has been making periodic contributions to the opus of hobby knowledge by sharing his holdings with us in this forum.

When the Larry Gardner Fans card is added to the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards, it will be unpriced.  Like the Bigbee and the Baker, it is unique and its value can only be assessed by a public sale. Even then, the value would be a snapshot of a particular point in hobby time, rather than a "book" value.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Picking away at picture pack checklists

I've always been a big fan of team-issued/concession stand player picture packs.

Generally comprising from 12 to about 25 players and manager, coaches, etc., these were available at souvenir outlets for 25 or 50 cents from the 1930s through the early 1970s.

They come in a variety of sizes from about 5" x 7" to 8" x 10", and until the late 1960s were black-and-white portrait or posed actions photos. The player is usually identified by a facsimile autograph.

As a collector I like the picture packs because they are sometimes the only available collectible of a particular player with a particular team on which he may have played for only a season or part of a season. Many players who went on to stardom made their first memorabilia appearance in a picture pack a year or more before their first "rookie card."

Because they don't fit the usual definition of a baseball "card,"  due of their size, lack of player biographical data and stats and manner of distribution, many collectors don't have much interest in them. Good. That's more for the rest of us, and at prices that seem like a bargain when compared to the much more common bubblegum cards of the same players from the same years.

As a cataloger, the picture packs present an on-going challenge. In many cases, the player composition of a team-issued picture pack purchased at the beginning of the season might be significantly different from that of a set bought at the end of the year. That's because some teams added or removed player pictures to reflect trades, retirements or other roster changes.

Then, too, unless a picture is found within a complete team-set pack, it is often difficult to pin down a specific year of issue, since some player photos were reused from year to year, or the pose may be so similar as to defy pinpointing the year of issue.

For most of 10 years the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards has printed listings only for picture packs issued in the 1950s or earlier. We have the data for dozens (hundreds?) of other sets from the 1960s and later, including complete by-pose descriptions of the annual Jay Publishing photo packs, but with collector interest so relatively low, it was felt that the space necessary to print all the lists couldn't be justified.

That situation will probably change some day. So until then we'll continue to welcome reports (with scans to verify) of additions to known sets, and even currently unchecklisted sets.

As a case in point, we have a newly reported addition to the 1941 Boston Red Sox picture pack. East Coast collector and long-time catalog contributor Bill Atkinson sent a photocopy of a picture of Odell Hale. A solid-hitting infielder for 10 years, with one of the best baseball nicknames of all time -- Bad News -- Hale was with the Red Sox only for the first half of the 1941 season. He was obtained in a trade from the Indians in December, 1940, and wained to the N.Y. Giants on June 19, 1941.

That would seem to account for the fact that he was previously unlisted among the 26 other Red Sox in the cataloged checklist.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Qualters had five cards, no MLB decisions

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 baseball historians discuss the deleterious effects of the bonus rule as it stood in the early 1950s, one of the poster boys often cited is Tom Qualters.

A pitching star in high school at McKeesport, Pa., just southwest of Pittsburgh. Qualters was courted by many major league teams, signing with the Philadelphia Phillies for a reported $40,000.

Under the bonus rules then in effect, Qualters was required to be carried on the Phillies roster for two years. While many of the era's "bonus babies" became contributing players in their two-years on the big club's bench, and a few became stars, the careers of many are typified by Tom Qualters.

Qualters was signed by the Phils on June 16, 1953. He didn't make his first appearance in an official game until Sept. 13 when Philadelphia was in St. Louis to face the Cardinals. That afternoon, Qualters was the fifth of sixth Phillies pitchers used, coming to the mound to open the bottom of the eighth inning with his team trailing 11-1.

Just 18 years old, with no minor league experience, Qualters was rudely received by the Cardinals. He faced seven batters, getting only one out. He gave up four hits, one of them a home run. The six runs he allowed were all earned. He walked one batter, hit another and was charged with a wild pitch. His ERA in his major league debut was 162.00. He received no decision in the game.

In fact, Qualters never received a decison in the 68 major league games in which he appeared. 

After his shelling in St. Louis, Qualters rode the pines for the entire 1954 season, and as soon as the bonus rules allowed, he was sent to the minor leagues in 1955, still only 20 years old. At Reidsville in the Class B Carolina League he was 8-9 with a 4.90 ERA. 

He pitched the 1956-57 seasons with Miami, the Phillies AAA farm club. He compiled a 16-17 record and was called up to the big club in September. He appeared in six games, all of the Phillies losses, pitching only 7.1 innings with a 7.36 ERA. 

Qualters opened the 1958 season with the Phillies, pitching in only one game before being sold to the Chicago White Sox on April 30. In 26 games (43 innings) with the White Sox, Qualters had an ERA of 4.19. His last major league appearance was Sept. 25, 1958. As mentioned, he left the majors without ever being credited with a win or a loss.

He also has a lifetime batting average of .000.  In 34 games played, Qualters had only four plate appearances. He walked twice and struck out twice.

Qualters returned to the minor leagues from 1959-62, before retiring. His lifetime minor league record was 43-51 with a 4.17 ERA.

While it's true that Tom Qualters made his official major league debut on Sept. 13, 1953, that was not the first time the Philly fans had seen their bonus pitcher in action against major league competition.

Less than two weeks after signing his big bonus contract, Qualters was showcased in the annual Phillies-A's exhibition charity game to benefit the Junior Baseball Federation of Philadelphia on June 29. In those days it was not uncommon for big league teams to play several exhibition games during each season, often for charity. They provided a good opportunity to give fans a look at players such as Qualters who were otherwise relegated to bench duty.

In the exhibition game, Qualters did not fare well. In front of a crowd of 15,293, he gave up six runs in the second inning. His teammates, who had tagged him with the nickname of "Money Bags," erased the deficit, though, and the Phillies went on to win 8-6. Charitably, the A's batters said he showed plenty of speed and lauded his curve -- though they pounded it all over the park.

Two weeks later, Qualters pitched in another exhibition game, against the Baltimore Orioles (then in the International League). Qualters was again hammed in the 10-3 loss. He pitched three innings, giving up five hits, five runs and four walks.

Despite his lack of success in the major leagues, Qualters appears on five Topps baseball cards. His rookie card is in 1954 Topps. In 1955 he appears in both the regular set and the Doubleheaders. In 1958-59 he's shown with the White Sox.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

New details on dual-sided "Bond Bread" cards

John Rumierz is a veteran card collector who has been active in the hobby since there WAS a hobby. First located in Michigan, then in Pennsylvania, John has been active, though in a decidedly low-key fashion, since the 1970s at shows, in the pages of the pioneering publications and by mail with collectors all over the country. 

In recent months John has began a thorough re-examination of his extensive collection with an eye towards determining what has yet to have been brought to the attention of the hobby as a whole. As time permits, he has been forwarding scans and data to us here for presentation in this forum and in future editions of the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards. 

The most recent information provided sheds some light on a variant of what the hobby knows as the "Bond Bread" issue of 1947. In reality, the New York baker was only one of several businesses that used a series of 44 baseball player cards and four boxers as promotions in the post-war era.

The genesis of the cards was a Chicago publisher, Aarco Playing Cards, that originally sold the cards in 1947 in boxed sets of 12 under the name Collectors & Traders Sports Star Subjects. The cards are black-and-white, blank-backed, 2-1/4" x 3-3/8" with rounded corners. Photos are borderless portraits or posed action shots with a facsimile autograph or script name.

That year, the N.Y. baker of Bond Bread evidently contracted with Aarco to obtain a quantity of the cards for distribution in loaves of bread. Later, for reasons unknown, square-cornered versions of half the cards in the set, printed on different card stock, were also produced.

Besides the boxed set and bread cards, much of the checklist of this set, along with at least one player that didn't appear in the original form, was used in a series of Exhibit-style larger-format cards and in a set of premium pictures in 6-5/8" x 9" format.

There was also a seldom-seen variant using the baseball/boxer pictures on one side, paired with Western movie stars on the backs. These were issued in perforated sheets. 

When the dual-sided perforated cards were first listed in the SCBC six or eight years ago, the introductory text stated, "anecdotal evidence suggests a connection with Bar Nunn shoe stores." Based on evidence forwarded by Rumierz, that now appears to be at least partially verified.

One of the cards Rumierz has shows a cowboy movie star on one side, with part of an ad on the back for Hess Shoes, which Rumierz says was a long-lived firm bases in Baltimore, Md. The ad, sadly not available in its entirety, evidently specified the number of subjects in the set, and indicated that Hollywood and Cowboy subjects were included. 

The pair of Jackie Robinson cards that Rumierz sent scans of shows that some, if not all, of the athletes could be found paired with more than one back subject. Interestingly, the cowboy actors on the cards' flip sides are usually not identified. The horseback riding subject on one of the cards is not known to me; the other back subject is James Cagney. 

The Robinson pair also shows a not insignificant size difference in the cards. Robinson, by virtue of the unperforated left and bottom sides, was evidently printed on the bottom-left corner of a sheet of unknown number. In trimming and perforating the sheet there was more picture left at the top and bottom of the card on the left. This indicates the two cards were printed at different times in different press runs.

John had offered to provide a list of the different front/back combinations he has in his collection, but since the value of these cards would be impacted most significantly by the baseball player on the front, and since collector interest in this unusual issue is minimal, it seems like trying to create a master checklist of fronts and backs would be overkill.

Friday, April 15, 2011

T206 Tinker: Variation or post-printing prank?

Presented here for your consideration is a strange T206 Joe Tinker, hands on knees, card.

It comes from vintage collector/modern dealer Dave Hatfield.

The card appears to have been printed with CUBS over something else on Tinker's jersey. The something else appears to show several letters of CHICAGO, plus another letter after the O.

Hatfield offered the card on eBay at $59,999, with no takers, but his offer was more to solicit information than bidders.

The card was the subject of considerable commentary on the popular vintage card  forum. While most of the veteran collectors who are regulars on that site appeared skeptical, there were others who do not dismiss out of hand the possibility that the hobby may be faced with a "new" variation in the venerable T206 set.

Some of the skeptics cited the lack of third-party certification as evidence the card was not original. Hatfield has since had the card authenticated and graded (Fair 1.5) by PSA, though no mention was made by the TPG of the "variation."

A very telling bit of information posted in the Net54 discussion is that a proof version of the T206 (front view) card of Frank Schulte exists with CHICAGO across the jersey, rather than the CUBS that is seen on the issued version. Like the Tinker, hands on knees, the Schulte, front view, was issued in the original "150 Subjects" series of T206 in 1909.

It is not impossible that the Tinker card was originally set up for printing with CHICAGO, rather than CUBS on the jersey, and it was later decided to go with the team nickname. That's only a theory unless or until a proof version with CHICAGO is found. If that was, indeed, the case, then it would appear that early Tinker cards were printed and packaged with the remnants of the CHICAGO designation on the jersey, but those remnants were quickly erased from the litho stone doing the printing.

Confirmation of these theories will require that other examples of the Tinker card with the CHICAGO underprint be reported.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

A contemporary look at baseball in 1953

Seeing the old familiar column heads in the 1953 issues of
The Sporting News brought back pleasant memories of
hours spent honing my reading skills with dad's issues.
I've just finished reading (on microfilm) the entire run of 1953 issues of The Sporting News.

I grew up on The Sporting News. Not in 1953, mind you, I was two years old then. But by the late 1950s and through the mid-1960s, I was a regular reader. I doubt that my dad was actually a subscriber, since money was always a concern. I'd guess that we got our TSN a week late from the same place we got our comic books; from the "clip barrels" at the magazine distributor that my dad worked for when he was laid off at the factory.

Poring over the 1953 microfilms was like getting reacquainted with an old grade-school friend. Many of the graphic column heads were the same as those I remembered from the Sixties.

In beginning my re-reading of TSN, I chose 1953 (I have complete year sets of the films from 1886 through about 1974) because that's the year the Braves came to Milwaukee.

In one issue of The Sporting News in 1953, long-time baseball
card collector Wirt Gammon, dean of sportswriters in Chat-
tanooga, advertised to buy baseball cards. He was looking for
the T206 Honus Wagner and Eddie Plank, along with the minor
league T210 Old Mill and T211 Red Sun cards. Gammon did at
one time own a T206 Wagner.

I've been sharing in this space tidbits gleaned from the paper's pages as they related to the players I remember from my baseball and football cards of the 1950s, and will continue to do so.

Having digested the entire 1953 year in baseball, this seems like an appropriate spot at which to summarize my thoughts about how the game, the players, the media and the nation differed then from now. I'm no expert on any of those subjects as they pertain to 2011. I find it difficult to watch more than an inning or two of a televised game, and I haven't read an issue of TSN this century.

Presenting some of the 1953 themes that stuck in my mind, in no particular order, other than the subject that was No. 1 on my list . . .

Milwaukee Braves. What struck me first was how close to the beginning of the season that the shift to Milwaukee from Boston was accomplished. The team was virtually in spring training when the move was announced. Years of falling attendance in Boston had made the move a fiscal necessity.

Braves owner Lou Perini, as it happened, also owned the Milwaukee Brewers of the American Associatio0n and had just completed construction of a $5 million stadium there. I have to think that before he poured that kind of money into a farm club infrasturcture, Perini knew he was going to be heading to Wisconsin.

The sporting paper provided almost giddy weekly accounts of the welcome that MLB received in Wisconsin, from the day they arrived until the stadium turnstiles clicked the last of the seasons' record-breaking attendance in late September.

I found some interesting items that pertain to the wealth of locally sponsored baseball card issues that were forthcoming for the Braves in the mid-1950s. I'll share those finds in coming weeks.

Bill Veeck and the St. Louis Browns. In contrast with how effortless the move of the National League Braves was accomplished, I was surprised to see how bitterly opposed the American League was to allowing Bill Veeck to move the Browns out of St. Louis. The other owners hated Veeck just that much that they vetoed his spring move to Baltimore to force him into playing yet another money-draining season as the "other" team in St. Louis.

I was surprised to read that previous Browns owners had been ready to move the team to Los Angeles in 1941; it was virtually a done deal until the intervention of World War II. Watching the story of the Browns search for a new home unfold week-by-week, it was clear why the other owners hated/envied Veeck for his business acumen. By playing off against one another such cities as Montreal, Quebec and Kansas City, he was able to squeeze the greatest possible concessions from Baltimore before the league permitted him to move the team. The American League got its pound of flesh in the deal, though. Veeck was forced out as an owner.

Veeck landed on his feet, however, being immediately hired by P.K. Wrigley, owner of the Los Angeles Angels, as well as the Chicago Cubs. Wrigley hired Veeck to investigate the feasibility of a major league invasion of the Pacific Coast League.

It was interesting that one of the paper's chief cartoonists, Willard Mullin, always symbolized the Browns in the form of a rawboned, bare-footed, scragly-bearded hillbilly, often labeled "Po' white trash."

August Busch and the Cardinals. I don't think even The Sporting News fully realized what it would mean for baseball when the Anheuser-Busch brewery purchased the St. Louis Cardinals early in 1953.
The modern era of major corprorate ownership of Major
 League teams was ushered in with the 1953 purchase of
the St. Louis Cardinals by Anaheuser-Busch brewery.
Here, brewery and team president August Busch is shown
in a Cardinals uniform. 

Busch's purchase from Fred Saigh, who was on his way to federal prison for tax evasion, gave the Cardinals perhaps the deepest pockets in baseball. While the National League owners might have had reservations about inviting such competition into their cabal, Busch's publicity machine painted him as the savior who was keeping outside interests -- usually speculated as being Milwaukee's Miller Brewery -- from moving the team out of St. Louis. Busch seemed to be careful about not throwing his money around in his early days as a team owner and thus cemented his welcome into the inner circle.

Television and radio. One of the big reasons American League owners had a hard-on for Bill Veeck was that he refused to allow them to televise games in which the Browns were the visiting team unless he got a piece of the revenue. After all, he reasoned, if the visiting team got a piece of each admission ticket sold, it followed they should get a cut of the television revenue. This was especially true if, as was widely believed though not "scientifically" proven, televising games was cutting into attendance.

The availability of major league games on television was often cited as the principal factor in the decline of the minor leagues. And, the minor leagues were in decline in 1953. By mid-season, when it became clear that some teams were out of pennant contention and fans were staying home in droves, individual teams in several lower-classification minor leagues folded up. After the season ended, entire leagues announced they were suspending operations.

Baseball formed several committees to study the problem as well to determine how to maximize and distribute revenues from All-Star and World Series broadcasts, but accomplished nothing in 1953. Zenith, RCA and other makers of TVs and radios were large display advertisers in nearly every issue of TSN.

Race. In 1953, a few major league teams had yet to add Negro (in the unvarnished vernacular of the era) ballplayers to their roster, and a few had no blacks anywhere in their farm system. A few minor leagues still maintained the color line. Henry Aaron was one of five Negroes to integrate the South Atlantic League in 1953. The Class AA Southern Association had no Negroes. When the Hot Springs (Ark.) Bathers of the Class C Cotton States League signed a pair of black pitchers, Jim and Leander Tugerson, the other owners threw them out of the league, at least temporarily. Jim Tugerson, already 30 years old, went on to win 29 games for Knoxville that season, then sued the Cotton States League and a few of its officials in Federal Court for violating his civil rights. The court decided against Tugerson and threw out his $50,000 suit.

It was common for The Sporting News to identify players with the descriptor of "Negro." The paper didn't do so for established major leaguers, but often did so when announcing signings or promotions of black players. In 1953, some (white) minor league players were still carrying the nickname of "Nig."

Japan was much in the news late in the year when Yankees pitcher Ed Lopat organized a barnstorming tour there. His thunder was stolen, however, by the New York Giants, who became the first MLB team to visit Japan as a (virtually) full team since the Yankees in the 1930s. Headline writers in TSN frequently used "Jap" and "Nip" in referring to the country and its people.

And if Mullin's characterization of the St. Louis Browns as a hillbilly was rough, the Indians he drew to represent Cleveland and Milwaukee were equally brutal.

Barnstorming. The now-defunct tradition of baseball players picking up a little post-season income by scheduling barnstorming exhibition games in small towns and cities around the country was in its heyday in 1953. Besides Lopat's tour in Japan, exhibition schedules were set by all-star aggregations led by Frank Shea in New England, Jackie Robinson throughout the South and into Mexico, and Roy Campanella out west and in Hawaii.

Baseball had rules generally limiting such post-season exhibitions to one month after the end of the World Series, and limiting the number of players from any MLB team that could participate. But more and more, team owners were restricting participation, fearful of the potential injury to star players that could result from games played in sandlots and cow pastures.

Exhibition games. Also vanished from major league baseball today are in-season exhibition games. In 1953, many teams played as many as a handful of exhibitions, including interleague games, games against minor league teams and even games against semi-pro outfits. While the biggest stars often made only token appearances, these exhibitions allowed teams to showcase the bonus babies who often saw very little real action during their two-year tour of duty on major league benches.

Military duty. Until the armistice was signed in late July, the U.S. was fighting the Korean War in 1953. While guys like Ted Williams got most of the headlines, every team had a few players from its roster in military service. One TSN article mentioned that the Pittsburgh Pirates organization had 170 of its players in uniform in late 1953.

Many of the actual major leaguers who were in the service spent their entire hitch playing baseball -- guys like Willie Mays, Don Newcombe, Joe Black, Johnny Antonelli, etc. It was generally conceded that the quality of service play was about on a par with Class A professional ball.

Player "days." Today, there are no more "days" for major league players, at least not of type that were frequently seen in 1953. Back then, it was not uncommon for a popular player or perhaps a retiring player or coach to be honored on a "day" or "night" at the ballpark. The honored player and his family would be introduced with his family before the game and presented with a shower of gifts that often included a new car, savings bonds, golf clubs, etc., along with flowers, appliances and jewelry for the wife and bicycles for the kids. The total value of the gifts usually ran into the thousands of dollars for major leaguers, that amount often representing up to about 25% of his salary. In 1953, the minimum major league salary was $5,000 (raised to $6,000 for 1954). Today, when the minimum salary is $414,500, and bench-warming utility infielders are earning $2 Million+, baseball fans aren't inclined to sweeten the pot.

Rule changes. At the winter meetings in 1953, several rule changes were made. The most significant was the reintroduction of the sacrifice fly rule. The sac fly had been in and out of baseball from the 1880s through 1940. When it was reintroduced in 1953, it was estimated that it would add about two points to batting averages. A rule change adopted for the 1954 season required that players could no longer leave their gloves, sunglasses or other equipment on the field when their team came to bat. While nobody could specifically point out any injuries that resulted from players tripping over gloves, or games being significantly impacted by balls being deflected by such foreign objects, the potential existed, so the rule was enacted. Gone were the days when teammates and opponents could terrify opidiophobic Phil Rizzuto by putting a rubber snake in his glove left on the outfield grass between innings. Other players were known to put live worms, gobs of chewing tobacco and, no doubt, other gross things, into gloves found lying around the outfield.

I'm a baseball and baseball card dinosaur, so given the choice, I much prefer to use my microfilm time machine to enjoy baseball as it was 60 years ago rather than than focus on the game as it exists today. I'll continue to share what I find interesting in this forum.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Wrong Drysdale autograph on Archives card

Collector Mike Simpson recently brought to my attention an error appearing on the 1955-style card of Don Drysdale from the 1995 Topps Brooklyn Dodgers Archives set.

The facsimile autograph on the front of the card is not that of the Dodgers' pitcher, but rather than of his widow, Ann Meyers Drysdale.

Facsimile autograph on Dodgers Archives card is that
 of Ann Meyers Drysdale.
Ann Meyers was the first woman elected (1993) to the Basketball Hall of Fame. She had been a star player at UCLA, a member of the silver-medal winning U.S.A. women's basketball team in the 1976 Montreal Olympics, and had played professionally in the Womens Professional Basketball League.

After her playing days she became a television analyst and executive with Phoenix's teams in the NBA and WNBA.

A cursory search on eBay doesn't turn up any Topps cards of Ann Meyers, but I suppose it's not unreasonable that they would have a file autograph of her. How that autograph got on the retro-1955 Don Drysdale card is anybody's guess. Maybe somebody in the art department saw the last name "Drysdale" and assumed it was the correct sig. Or perhaps it was just incorrectly selected from a pull-down menu.

In any event, I don't remember this autograph error even being mentioned when the Dodgers Archives set first came out 16 years ago. Given the limited print run for the set, I doubt the error was ever corrected.
Correct Don Drysdale auotgraph from 1959 Topps card.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Swift made comeback for 1,000th game

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.

Having played just 28 games, batting .138 as a backup catcher for the Detroit Tigers in 1952 at the age of 37, Bob Swift retired. His former batterymate Fred Hutchinson had taken over the reins as Detroit manager in mid-season 1952, and Swift joined his coaching staff in 1953.

Whether he knew it at the time he retired in 1952, or learned of it later, Swift had left the playing ranks with 999 major league games under his belt.

When the Tigers were officially eliminated from the '53 pennant race in late August, Hutch offered Swift the chance to round out his career games-played mark to an even 1,000.

So, on Sept. 22, when the Tigers took the field against Satchel Paige and the St. Louis Browns, Swift began his 1,000th big league game, catching 18-year-old Bob Miller, the lefty bonus baby who had signed with the Tigers earlier in the year for a reported $60,000. The game was a match-up between the youngest pitcher in the major leagues and the oldest. Paige's actual age remains a mystery. Baseball's "official" records list him with a 1906 birthdate, but earlier in the season, Browns owner Bill Veeck had let slip to a reporter that Paige was actually 52 years old. Whether or not Veeck was being truthful, was mistaken, or just wanted to enhance the legend can never be known.

Detroit lost that day 7-3. Miller pitched five innings before being hit in the head by a line drive and sent to the hospital. Swift was 0-for-1 at the plate with a base on balls.

Perhaps not wanting to end his career on a loss, or maybe just to push his total games played over the 1,000 mark, Swift got one more start in 1953.

On Sept. 27, the last game of the season, the Tigers were in Cleveland to face Bob Feller. The Tigers won Swift's 1,001 major league game 7-3, with Swift contributing an RBI double and a walk.

While that was the end of Swift's major league playing days, he played in 85 more professional games in 1955-56. In 1955 he played for Oakland and Seattle in the Pacific Coast League, batting .248. In 1956 he was playing-manager for the Class A Albuquerque in the Western League, batting .263 in 32 games.

By 1961, Swift was managing in the Tigers farm system, at Duluth-Superior (Class C) in 1961, and at AAA Syracuse in 1963. In 1965, Swift returned to the major leagues at Detroit Tigers manager for two seasons.

Swift didn't appear on any mainstream baseball cards in 1953, but he was on Bowman cards every year from 1949-52 and on Topps cards in 1952 and 1954.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Rosen refused 'gift' of 1953 Triple Crown

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.

Baseball's history, if not its official record, is rife with instances in which a member or members of an opposing team "laid down" for the benefit of an opposing player. We're not talking here about some nefarious gambling scheme, but rather just a collegial favor done between the white lines in a game in which the score was so lopsided that the outcome was inevitable, or perhaps a game that was meaningless to the league standings.

These courtesies were often for the statistical benefit of a former teammate or a "good guy"  wearing the opposition's uniform. Occasionally, a team might consciously give an edge to a player who is on the verge of defeating a hated rival in some major statistical category. Or a battery might tip off a rookie that a gopher ball was going to be served to allow him to get a hit or home run in his first major league at-bat.

These favors could include such things as losing a fly ball in the sun, overthrowing second on an attempted steal or swinging feebly at obvious bad pitches.  Usually everybody in the park, from the fans in the bleachers to the managers in the dugouts, recognized what was happening in these instances and there were no adverse consequences.

But what if such circumstances had such a far-reaching, albeit unforeseen, effect as keeping a player out of the Hall of Fame?

In reading contemporary Sporting News accounts of the 1953 American League batting title race, I couldn't help but wonder if Al Rosen's unwillingness to take a gift base hit from the opposition might have been such a case.

Going into the final series of the 1953 season, Cleveland Indians third baseman Rosen was in serious contention for the Triple Crown (it would have been first in the majors since Ted Williams in 1947). He had locked up the American League RBI title; at season's end he had 145 RBIs to runner-up Mickey Vernon's 115. With 41, Rosen was just one home run behind Gus Zernial. And, with just three games to go, Rosen trailed Vernon .329 to .336 for the batting title.

In an effort to perhaps get Rosen a few more at-bats to overtake Zernial, he was put into the lead-off hitter's spot. At that point in the season the Indians had sewn up second place behind the Yankees. When the Tribe defeated the third-place Chicago White Sox on Sept. 22 and 23, there was no longer any chance that the Sox could overtake them for second-place money.

In the weekend final series, Vernon's Washington Senators were hosting the Philadelphia A's, and the Indians were at home against the Detroit Tigers.

On Friday, the 25th, Vernon went 0-for-4, dropping his batting average to .333. Rosen, swinging for the fences with each at-bat, went 4-for-6, raising his average to .332. More importantly, he hit two home runs to pull ahead of Zernial 43 to 42, the numbers that would stand at the end of the season. Rosen's 43 homers also set an Indians team record.

On Saturday afternoon, Sept. 26, Rosen was 2-for-4 in a 12-3 Cleveland win. That brought him to a .333 tie with Vernon. That night, though, facing A's rookie pitcher Bob Trice and though the Senators were beaten 11-2, Vernon had a 3-for-4 day, bringing his average back to .336.

On the final day of the season, Sunday the 27th, the wires between the press boxes at Briggs and Municipal Stadiums burned up with each at-bat. The data was relayed to the Indians and Senators dugouts, and in Cleveland the public address announcer kept the entire park informed of developments.

In the first inning at Washington, Vernon grounded out. In his first two at-bats in Cleveland, Rosen singled and doubled to tie Vernon at .336. Vernon beat out a bunt in the third to pull ahead by a point (.337). Rosen hit into a force, then had a bunt single, remaining at .336. Vernon's line-drive single in the fifth maintained his edge. In the seventh, Vernon shot a rocket into the right fiend stands, but it was foul by a couple of feet. He then flew out to right, going to .337171.

In Cleveland, whether he knew it or not due to the time lag in getting reports from the Senators game, Rosen had a chance to take the batting title -- and with it, the  Triple Crown -- with a hit in his final at-bat.

Whether because the Tigers, comfortably ahead in the game 7-3, liked Rosen or disliked Vernon, Detroit became "cousins" of the Hebrew Hammer when he came to the plate in the ninth inning. The infielders moved way back, conceding a bunt to Rosen. When Indians coach Tony Cuccinello pointed out the Tigers defensive setup, Rosen told him he wouldn't take the gift bunt hit being offered. He told the coach he didn't want to win the title like that, and that he was going up to the plate to hit, and would be trying for a home run.

Cleveland baseball writer Hal Lebovitz reported that Tigers pitcher Al Aber appeared more nervous than Rosen. He started off by throwing three "very bad pitches" for balls. Refusing to take the walk, Rosen fouled off the next four "equally bad" pitches, including one that Lebovitz contended hit Rosen. He then hit a high, slow bounder to Jerry Priddy at third, who threw to Tigers manager Fred Hutchinson playing first.

Whether it was because Priddy eased up on the throw, or Rosen was not a particularly fast runner, the play at first was bang-bang. Umpire Hank Soar called Rosen out; the runner had missed the bag, as he saw it. The 9,579 fans let out a collective groan and then began booing. After the game, Rosen defended Soar's call. He said, "Soar knew I was out. Hutchinson knew I was out. I knew I was out. I wouldn't want to win the title from Mickey on that play. I would know in my heart always that I really didn't make it."

Rosen finished the season with a batting average of .3355592. If he had taken the gift bunt, he would have had .3372287, nosing out Vernon by 1/500th of a percent: 0.0000577.

Meanwhile, back in Washington, Vernon's teammates, because they were unsure that the press box had their stats correct, determined not to let him come to bat again and risk losing the batting championship. In reality, though, an extra unproductive at-bat would have still left Vernon with a one point lead.

Thus, the Senators engaged in what Washington beat writer Herb Heft called a "quiet conspiracy" to sew up the title for Vernon. They knew that if anybody got on base in the eighth or ninth inning, and was stranded, Vernon would have to come to the plate. Thus, "rather zany shenanigans" ensued.

Mickey Grasso doubled in the eighth inning, but when he "wandered off" the bag, he was picked off by pitcher Joe Coleman. In the ninth, Keith Thomas led off with a pinch-hit single to left, but with what Heft called "super-obvious lack of judgment," tried for two bases and was easily thrown out. Ed Yost, the Walking Man, popped up on a pitch that was a foot over his head for the second out. Pete Runnels "half-swung" into the final out and Vernon was left in the on-deck circle with his second American League batting title. (In 1946, Vernon had won with a .353 mark, the only time previous to 1953 that he had hit over .300.)

Asked to comment on his team's unusual performance in the final innings, Senators manager Bucky Harris said, "I didn't have anything to do with any conspiracy. If the players ran the bases poorly or swung at bad pitches, it was their own doing . . . they won't be fined." Regardless of Harris' position on the issue, an unsigned Sporting News editorial,  probably by publisher J. G. Taylor Spink, appeared shortly after the close of the season, coming down firmly against such tactics.

In delving further into Al Rosen's career, I now realize that a Triple Crown in 1953 probably would not have meant the difference between getting into the Hall of Fame or not. In fact, I can't find that Rosen's name was ever on the ballot.

After turning pro at age 18 in 1942, Rosen lost three seasons in the Navy during World War II. He didn't make his major league debut until 1947. Playing just 10 seasons in the majors just didn't allow him the raw numbers. In fact, until he beat out Ken Keltner for the starting third baseman's job in 1950, Rosen played just seven, five and 23 games in 1947-49, respectively. He retired after the 1956 season when an auto accident exacerbated back and leg injuries. He did, though, win the MVP in '53 (the first time that it had ever been won on unanimous first-pace votes), was a four-time All-Star and had a 1948 World Series ring. He also led the league twice in home runs and RBIs.

After retirement, Rosen became a Cleveland stock broker until returning to baseball as president and/or general manager of the Yankees (1978-79), Astros (1980-85) and Giants (1985-92).

You don't hear about players from an opposing team doing any favors during a game in this day and age. to me, that's just one more thing that has taken some of the human interest out of the modern game.
Rosen and Vernon were teammates on the 1949-50 Cleveland Indians. They're shown here on their 1950 Num Num Potato Chips cards.