Sunday, July 24, 2011

Smilin' Joe Christopher had 0-for-23 start

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 you collected baseball cards in the early 1960s, maybe you remember Joe Christopher's smiling face. He was one of those guys who never took a bad baseball card photo.

Other than the fact that he was in the major leagues, Christopher didn't have a whole lot to smile about when he broke into the bigs, though.

He had hit .327 for the Pirates' AAA club at Salt Lake City in 1958. But he went 0-for-1959 when the Pirates called him up in late-May. Christopher made his big league debut May 26, in Harvey Haddix' 12-inning perfect game.  Christopher stayed with Pittsburgh through July 2, but had only a walk to show for his 14 plate appearances. He was officially 0-for-12. 

Sent back down to Columbus, he hit .301 for the season 

He began the 1960 season with the Pirates, primarily used as a pinch-runner. He was hitless when he was sent back to Salt Lake City in mid-May, where he batted .341 in 20 games.  He was recalled to Pittsburgh in June and spent the remainder of the season on the major league roster.

Finally, on June 30, in the nightcap of a doubleheader against San Francisco, Christopher singled off Mike McCormick in the first inning. He had gone 11 hitless at-bats thus far in the season. He could now boast a career .042 average.

On Sept. 27, against the Reds he had a five-hit game, raising his season's batting average from .167 to .245. He finished the 1960 season at .232.

Christopher appeared in three games in the 1960 World Series, scoring two runs in the Pirates' victory over the Yankees. He didn't have an at-bat, but he had a World's Champions ring.

Christopher was the Pirates' fourth outfielder in 1961, batting .263. In the October expansion draft, he became one of the original N.Y. Mets.
He was the first Mets player to hit .300 in a season with over 500 at-bats when he batted an even .300 in 1964. That season he had played in his second major league perfect game, when Jim Bunning of the Phillies blanked the Mets June 21 at Shea.

Christopher was traded to the Boston Red Sox in 1966, ending his eight-year major league career with a .260 batting average.

On a technicality, Christopher was the first native-born major league player from the United States Virgin Islands. Valmy Thomas, who is often cited in that role, was actually born in Puerto Rico because his mother sought better medical attention before mother and newborn immediately returned home to St. Croix. Thomas debuted with the N.Y. Giants on April 16, 1957.

After his playing days were over, Christopher operated a baseball school in the Virgin Islands.

You can find Christopher's smiling face on Topps cards in 1961, 1963, 1964 and 1965. Besides the regular '65 Topps card, he also appeared in the Embossed insert set and the Transfers issued that year.

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