Monday, August 29, 2011

When "Hot Rod" stole home

Uncommon commons: In more than 30 years in sportscards publishing I have thrown hundreds of notes into files about the players – usually non-star players – who made up the majority of the baseball and football cards I collected as a kid. Today, I keep adding to those files as I peruse microfilms of The Sporting News from the 1880s through the 1960s. I found these tidbits brought some life to the player pictures on those cards. I figure that if I enjoyed them, you might too.

I’m not sure whether this feat contributed to Rod Kanehl acquiring the nickname “Hot Rod,” but it well could have been a consideration.

Kanehl was standing on third in a bases-loaded, none-out situation at home in Nashville (Southern Association) in the second game of a doubleheader on July 17, 1960. With the score tied at 5-5, Little Rock relief pitcher Frank Mankovitch fell behind in the count to Crawford Davidson at the plate.

When catcher Don (Stumpy) Williams started for the mound to settle down his pitcher, Kanehl noticed that he had not asked the umpire for time out.

As Williams neared the mound, Kanehl broke for the plate and scored easily with the winning run.

Vols manager, Jim Turner, coaching at third base, said it was the first time in his 38-year-career in organized baseball that he had seen such a play.

At the time, Kanehl was a seasoned veteran of the minor leagues. At age 26, he was in his seventh season in the Yankees' organization.

In the 1961 minor league draft, Kanehl was taken by the N.Y. Mets, and became the team's super-sub, playing all four infield positions and all three outfield positions in 1962. He lasted in the major only through the 1964 season. 

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Since the photographs that appear on baseball cards are probably the single most important element, I found it interesting that in 1953, the New York's press photographers honored three of the city's players as being the most co-operative.

The Jan. 21 issue of The Sporting News covered the occasion in a major league way. giving over most of that issue's front page to a cartoon by Willard Mullin that offered some great insights into some of the guys we see on our early Fifties baseball cards.

The accompanying article was written by New York World-Telegram baseball beat writer Dan Daniel. It was headlined "Phil, Pee Wee, Sal Hailed as Photogs' Pals".

The pertinent portion of the coverage began, "Phil Rizzuto of the Yankees, Pee Wee Reese, Dodgers, and Sal Maglie, Giants, two great shortstops and a pitcher, marvelous guys on and off the field, were honored in the second annual sports citation dinner of the Press Photographers Association of New York, at Leone's popular restaurant, on the night of January 12.

"To the Scooter, Pee Wee and the Barber went bronze plaques as the cameramen's choices of the ultimate in co-operation. The baseball writers would do well to sponsor a similar award, but as yet they have done nothing in that direction," Daniel commented.

"There is only one citation, really, by the disciples of Mons. Daguerre, but the election resulted in a triple tie, and rather than have a runoff, the lensmen made three awards."

According to the article, more than 100 cameramen, baseball officials and baseball writers attended the dinner.

Strictly coincidentally, about the time I first encountered this article while reviewing TSN microfilm, a photograph appeared on eBay showing the photographers' association president Jack Downey presenting Rizzuto, Reese and Magline with their awards.  

Friday, August 26, 2011

Another "alt" 1957 Topps-style Koufax custom

My ALT-2 1957-style Koufax custom.
In my blog post of June 24, 2010 (you can find it by clicking on "older posts at the bottom), I presented an alternative 1957 Topps-style Sandy Koufax custom card that I had created.

In the post, I said, "I haven't often, in my several years of custom card making, tried to improve on an actual card from Topps, Bowman, etc. It's my belief that the graphic artists who created those originals so many decades ago, working with what today is viewed as ancient technology -- a roll of rubylith and an Xacto knife -- do not deserve to have their legacy usurped by me and my computer graphics tools."

My ALT-1 1957-style Koufax custom.

But the recent availability of some never-before-seen photos of a young Koufax was too tempting and I created another 1957-style Koufax card. The vivid color and the Ebbets Field background were a perfect image to recreate a later-series '57 Topps card. Collectors of vintage cards recognize that while the first several series of 1957 Topps were generally muted in color, from the 4th Series on, many of the cards exhibited a much brighter look.

As I said back in June, 2010, Topps made an excellent choice with the close-up portrait of Koufax they used on card #302, but the alternative posed-action photos they had on hand would have also made great looking cards.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

1960 Topps print run hint found

A couple of bits and pieces found while poring over microfilm of 1960 issues of The Sporting News may have provided a clue as to how many baseball cards Topps produced that year, and perhaps 1959, as well.

A feature photo on Page 38 of the May 4 issue of TSN showed a trio of kids -- plus Stan Musial. The Man was signing an autograph for one of the lads in an inset photo, while the other two boys were shown "trading 'bubble gum' players in a porch-step exchange."

The cutline indicated that Topps "will issue approximately 600 different cards this season," and that "over 250,000,000 of them will be sold in bubble gum packages."

We now know that Topps' 1960 baseball set was complete at 572 cards. If all 572 had been printed in equal numbers, that estimated print run would account for 437,063 of each card.

Of course, the semi-high numbers (#441-506) and the high numbers (#507-572) were issued in progressively smaller quantities than the first five series issued earlier in the year.

Your guess is as good as mine as to what the ratio between 1st Series and 7th Series print runs might have been. Were the early series 500,000 of each card? 600,000? More? Were the Sixth and 7th Series half the number of the earlier series? A third?

If my estimates are anywhere near correct, and if only 10% of those cards survive, that would mean there are about 50,000-60,000 "regular" 1960 Topps Mickey Mantles or Carl Yastrzemski rookies left. Mantle All-Stars would number 25,000-30,000 or so. That seems high to me. 

What's your take on the numbers?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Pretty pictures: "Cowboy" Dizzy Dean

A couple of days ago we shared a photo from among a couple of hundred accumulated over 30+ years. The picture was of St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Paul "Daffy" Dean tending to his farm.

In the same vein, presented here is a picture of Dizzy Dean you probably haven't seen before.

Datelined June 4, 1940, the AP Wirephoto was captioned, "Dean Heads South and Hopes for Comeback". 

After beginning the 1940 season with a 1-1 record in six appearances and an ERA way above 5.00, Diz was sent down to the Cubs' farm club in the Class A1 Texas League to work out the kinks.

The cutline on the picture reads, "The once-great Dizzy Dean was headed for the minors today be he still kept his good humor as, barefoot and wearing his cowboy hat, he donned his Chicago Cub uniform for the last time before leaving for the Tulsa Club of the Texas League. Dean hopes for a comeback in the same circuit in which he began his amazing flight to major league hurling heights."

With the Oilers in 21 games, Dean had an 8-8 record and 3.17 ERA. He was recalled by the Cubs in September and had a 2-2 record in four games.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Pretty Pictures: "Farmer" Paul Dean

Yesterday we shared a photo from among a couple of hundred accumulated over 30+ years. The picture was of 1930s first baseman Zeke Bonura working his cabbage farm.

In the same vein, presented here is a picture of St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Paul "Daffy" Dean tending to his farm. Unlike the Bonura picture, however, this was not an off-season scene.

This International News Photos picture was datelined July 25, 1938, at Dallas, Tex. At that time, Dean had been virtually out of the major leagues since Aug. 24, 1936, sidelined by a sore arm. He had pitched only once in 1937, facing three batters on April 24, hitting two of them and giving up a hit to the third.

There is a haunting quality about this portrait of the sidelined Dean, that the caption writer effectively captured.

1940 Play Ball.

Under the almost non-sensical headline "The sun is horsehide and bleachers fill the horizon," the caption reads, "The young man with the hoe is Paul 'Daffy' Dean, younger brother of Chicago Cubs' Jerome 'Dizzy' Dean, who is dreaming of short-cropped grass and a packed grandstand instead of tall corn and the wide-open spaces. Daffy -- like brother Dizzy -- suffered from a troublesome money arm and he thinks the work on his huge farm here will get it back in shape. Brother Dizzy is, from all appearances, back in shape and pitching and brother Paul, with a far away look in his eyes, yearns for the day when the old snap returns and he can toe the rubber once more."

Probably not too long after the picture was taken, Paul began a comeback pitching for Dallas and Houston in the Texas League. In 29 games he pitched 201 innings with a 3.72 ERA and an 8-16 record.

In September, the Cardinals recalled him to St. Louis. In five games between Sept. 11-Oct. 2, he won three and lost one. His major league career, however, was effectively over and he was never able to regain the form that he showed with back-to-back 19-win season in his first two years.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Pretty Pictures: "Farmer" Zeke Bonura

In preparation for a relocation of my office, I’ve been poring over 30+ years of accumulated files trying to get up the nerve to start filling a recycling bin.

I’ve moved these folders full of photos, card, photocopies and notes at least six times. What makes me think that if I haven’t found time in the last couple of decades to convert these bits and pieces into features for the entertainment of collectors, that I will do so in the next couple of years?

Fortunately, rather new to the equation is this blog. It’s a lot easier to convert photos to images and “publish” articles on the internet than it was in the ink-on-paper days.

With that in mind, I’ve determined to try to wade through the files and present the gleanings in this space as time allows. I’ll identify these shared photos under the headline “Pretty Pictures.” That was the name of a 1930s book of cartoons by Otto Soglow that I read and reread as a child.

Most of these shared photos don’t have any great baseball historical significance, but at some point they appealed to me. In many cases, they present the players out of uniform and out of context. They provide a different look at the guys on our baseball cards.

We’ll kick off the series with this 1941 photo of Henry “Zeke” Bonura. Datelined New Orleans in mid-January, it is a photo of the type that was meant to keep alive the ember of baseball interest during the off-season in the days before multiple 24/7 sports channels on television.

1936 Goudey
 This is an Associated Press wirephoto. It was headlined, “Farm chores keep Cub slugger in shape.”

The caption reads, “Zeke Bonura, former New York Giants’ problem child but currently a docile ward of the Chicago Cubs, carts a load of cabbages on his 200-acre farm, and declares he will try ‘harder than ever before’ during the coming baseball season. And as he goes about his chores he doesn’t hesitate to predict a pennant for the Cubs. ‘The Cubs don’t lack anything’ sums up his praise for his new club. As for his cabbages, ‘They’re the best in Louisiana.” And the mules are good too, says Zeke.”

Bonura was a good-hitting first baseman. In his seven-year major league career he hit .307, and in his first five seasons (1934-38), he averaged more than 20 home runs a season.

But, despite the fact that he led American League first basemen in fielding three times, he was viewed as a defensive liability due to a lack of range and effort. His futile wave at ground balls scudding past him became known as the “Bonura salute.”

Despite Bonura’s prediction of a pennant in 1941, the Cubs finished sixth. Bonura, however, wasn’t there to see it. By the time this photo was taken, Bonura’s major league career was over. A month after the picture was sent to the newspapers, Bonura was sold to the Minneapolis Millers.

With time out for military service in World War II, Bonura continued to play minor league ball until 1952. As a player-manager with Midland in the Longhorn League (Class C) in 1951, he batted .404 in 48 games.

Bonura continued to manage in the minors for a few more years after ending his playing days. In 1953 he won the Northern League (Class C) title with the Fargo-Moorhead Twins. In his first season of pro ball, 18-year-old Roger Maris hit.325 with nine home runs for Bonura’s team.

Picture for sale: If you'd like to buy the "Farmer Bonura" press photo;  it's available for $4.99 postpaid. E-mail me at for payment details.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A 1976 Dale Murphy "pre-rookie" custom

My final front design for a 1976-style
Dale Murphy.

My latest custom card project was the creation of a 1976-style Dale Murphy.

Murph, of course, made his baseball card debut in 1977 as a bug-sized portrait on one of those four-player Topps "Rookie Catchers" cards.

I was a long-time Dale Murphy fan. He is as fine a human being as he was a ballplayer. It doesn't look like he'll ever make the Hall of Fame, but I get the feeling that he doesn't lose any sleep over it.

He was part of those early 1980s Atlanta Braves teams that I began to follow when TBS was the "superstation" and brought the Braves to all corners of the country on that newfangled cable television.

I decided not to use the Rookie All-Stars
trophy in my final front design.

Since Murphy made his major league debut in 1976, it would not have been unprecedented for Topps to have anticipated his preferment and included him in that year's baseball card set. I think my custom is a pretty good approximation of what a 1976 Topps Dale Murphy rookie would have looked like.

I dithered for a while about whether to include the Rookie All-Star trophy on my card, and ultimately decided against it. The trophy seemed too distracting and forced me to move the portrait to the left. I think I made the correct decision.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Janitor rescued priceless Yankees memorabilia

The front page of the Jan. 6, 1960, issue of The Sporting News contained an article that will be on interest to some collectors of high-end vintage baseball memorabilia.

Headlined, “Records of Old Yanks Saved From Junk Heap,” the article was written by Dan Daniel, TSN’s principal Yankees beat writer.

The article provides insights on how a lot of Yankees items that have been collected over the past 65 years were nearly lost to the hobby.

Since I can add little in the way of editorial comment – this sort of stuff was always outside the realm of my collecting interests and out of my budget range – I’ll just reprint what Daniel wrote.

“NEW YORK, N.Y.—This is an incredible story. It has to do with a lot of baseball material, much of which should be in the museum at Cooperstown, N.Y., that found its way into the trash heap and then was rescued.

“In 1945, when Larry MacPhail became general manager of the Yankees, he found a vast collection of papers in the files of Edward G. Barrow, who was retiring from the command to a purely decorative post as chairman of the board.

“Apparently Larry did not have the time to go over the material which Barrow had collected for many years. Perhaps MacPhail had the time, but not the inclination. Maybe he felt that all connection with the club’s past had to be broken and a new ledger started.

“In any event, the contents of the file were thrown into the waste baskets in Larry’s office.

“The trash collector was more choosey than Larry. He spied a lot of pay checks with the endorsements of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and other Yankee heroes of yore. He had a hunch that a lot of the other material was valuable even if only as souvenirs. So the trash man took all of the stuff home with him. Then he sorted it out. He realized that he had something, and began to look for a buyer.

“A book dealer on Fourteenth street purchased a lot of the stuff. Another dealer in New Haven got some of it. Many of the old checks were given away by the garbage collector to friends.

“The book dealer peddled the stuff all over the country. He offered it to magazines, to collectors of baseball memorabilia.

News Editor Bought Lot

“Finally he found a buyer in a strange place. A man named Frank, who was the labor news editor for the New York World-Telegram & Sun, purchased the lot for $1,000.

“Frank played around with the find for about two years and then disposed of it for a small profit.

“Recently a Wall Street broker called me up and asked if I could offer any advice on what could be done with the material.

“When I got in touch with him, he said that he had just sold the stuff to a magazine. He explained that while he was interested in baseball, he preferred not to move out of his field of autographs of presidents and Declaration of Independence signers.

“The material includes a mass of secret documents having to do with Ban Johnson’s organization of the American League. It includes a lot of papers covering the sale of Ruth to the Yankees, and Johnson’s fight with Colonel Jake Ruppert and Colonel Til Huston over Boston’s disposal of star stars to the New York club. There is a lot of material covering the Carl Mays case.

“The magazine has started to publish some of the more obvious stuff. It will be interesting to see if it will interpret the most important documents in the true light of their contents.”

So that’s how some of the more pricey Yankees memorabilia in the hobby made its way from Yankee Stadium to today’s collectors. It would have been interesting if Daniel had named some of the book dealers and middlemen, but perhaps at the time there was some fear that the team might have started looking for compensation for MacPhail’s failure to recognize the archive’s value.

It would also be interesting if I understood what Daniel was trying to convey in his last paragraph.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

'52 Indians bank set checklist now complete

A couple of years before I left the full-time employ of the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards, we added a listing for an "Official 'Player History' Card" card issue of 1952 from the Central National Bank of Cleveland.

I don't recall now who submitted that original card, Early Wynn, for listing, but we speculated at the time that there were more players included and that the cards were likely given away as premiums to encourage participation in the "Baseball Savings Club."

We know have confirm that such was indeed the case. The confirmation comes in the form of a complete 20-card set, along with a letter that seems to have accompanied the Early Wynn card in a promotional effort aimed at youngsters.

What I did get wrong in that initial listing was that the cards were all printed in dark blue on cream colored stock. In fact, the 6-3/4" x 4-7/8" cards are printed in black, and can be found on yellow, orange or blue blank-backed stock. All share the format of the sample shown.

The 20-card set was offered in the Legendary Auctions sale Aug. 5 in conjunction with the National Sports Collectors Convention in Chicago. The cards and accompanying 8-1/2" x 11" letter, all suffering either staple holes or a small bit of missing paper or discoloration of the card stock, but otherwise looking to be about VG-EX condition, sold for $11,950.

Coincidentally, a second group of 16 of the Central N.B. Indians cards was also made public on, an internet forum dedicated to collectors of vintage baseball cards in early August.

The checklist of 20 Cleveland Indians cards in the set is:
  • Bob Avila
  • Ike Boone
  • Lou Brissie
  • Merrill Combs
  • Larry Doby
  • Luke Easter
  • Bob Feller
  • Jim Fridley
  • Mike Garcia
  • Steve Gromek
  • Jim Hegan
  • Bob Kennedy
  • Bob Lemon
  • Al Lopez
  • Dale Mitchell
  • Pete Reiser
  • Al Rosen
  • Harry Simpson
  • Birdie Tebbetts
  • Early Wynn

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Shameless plug: Selling some photos

Beginning next Monday, Aug. 15, I'm going to be selling on eBay several dozen vintage baseball photos, most of them authentically autographed, including a lot of signatures of cup-of-coffee major leaguers -- some with as few as one game played in the big leagues -- that might be of interest to team specialists among vintage baseball memorabilia collectors.

Most of this group of photos came from a large lot purchased, if I recall correctly, from a Leland's auction 15-20 years ago.

Most of the photos are the work of a single amateur photographer, probably from Texas. His first name was Ambrose and his last name started with an "E," but that's all the identification I have.

Empirical evidence indicates that Ambrose attended minor league and spring training exhibition games from the very late 1940s through the very early 1950s. It looks like he snapped his photos pre-game from the first row of seats. After developing and printing the photos, he had them signed by the players, often in varied colors of what I believe is fountain pen ink.

All of the photos are in 5" x 7" format, printed on finely pebbled matte paper. The lighting and focus of his photos wasn't always the best, but these are unique poses. Some of the photos are of players on teams other than as we remember them from their baseball cards of the 1950s.

Selling these photos is part of some file downsizing I'm undertaking.

All of these photos will be sold on eBay on Aug. 15-16 and Aug. 18-20. You can find them by searching for me under the seller name goldflamedpt.

Bo (the other Bo) had a one-card set

The Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards is rife with what I call "one-card sets."

These are baseball cards in the old-school sense that they were issued to promote the sale or use of a product or service. Off the top of my head, I don't know when the first one-card set was issued, which player was pictured or what it was intended to promote. Likewise, while I suspect that they are still being issued, I can't tell you about any that might have been issued in recent years, since I barely follow baseball these days, and have zero interest in current cards.

Back in the days when I was working full-time (and more) cataloging vintage cards for the "big book," I was diligent in trying to capture data about single-card sets issued prior to 1981. When I returned to catalog duty in 2009 after a few years away, it was on a very limited part-time basis, and running down one-card sets to add to the catalog just wasn't efficient use of my time.

I'm going to make an exception, though, for a card that was recently reported by a long-time hobby colleague and catalog contributor, Tim Pulcifer. The one-card set that he reported is different because it is something that has been on my radar for decades, but was never listed in the catalog.

I believe that's because somewhere or other in my old files I had only the image of the card's front, and without the information that's on the back, it was impossible to attribute.

Also arguing for special attention is the fact that the card pictures a player that was a personal favorite of mine in the 1960s, Bo Belinsky. I once owned a game-used Belinsky L.A. Angels flannel jersey.

Pulsifer describes Belinsky as one of baseball's "colorful characters" of the era. That's an understatement, 

Tall, dark and handsome, he was West Coast baseball's answer to Joe Namath in terms of womanizing and occasionally brilliant on-field performance. He began his major league career in 1962 with four straight wins, the fourth being a no-hitter. Also like Broadway Joe, Belinsky was more about style than substance, and the totality of his career was mediocre, at best.

Still, in the early 1960s, when he had a no-hitter under his belt, a buxom platinum blonde on each arm, and a Cadillac convertible at his fingertips, he epitomized the playboy-athlete and was the darling of Hollywood.
It was inevitable, then, that a book would be forthcoming, and it's that book that this card was issued to promote. I read Pitching and Wooing many years ago. I remember it as more self-aggrandizing than inside baseball. It might be worth a re-read today.

Too bad Bo died relatively young, at 64 in 2001. An updating of his biography would have been interesting. You can check Wikipedia to get a flavor of Bo's story.

I still have a few Belinsky cards in my binder of favorite players, but never owned this promotional card. Tim got lucky and found his on the internet, paying $1 for it from a seller in Denmark.

I'm unsure how the card was distributed, and it's not common today. Collectors of vintage cards, of course, will recognize the design on the front as a take-off on Topps' 1972 baseball card issue.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Actor Dante was ballplayer Vitti

Uncommon commons: In more than 30 years in sportscards publishing I have thrown hundreds of notes into files about the players – usually non-star players – who made up the majority of the baseball and football cards I collected as a kid. Today, I keep adding to those files as I peruse microfilms of The Sporting News from the 1880s through the 1960s. I found these tidbits brought some life to the player pictures on those cards. I figure that if I enjoyed them, you might too.

Like many baseball players of the 1950s, Ralph Vitti occasionally appears as an autograph guest at conventions, and his cards can be purchased nearly every day on eBay.
However, you might not recognize him as Ralph Vitti and he doesn't sign at card shows, but at Star Trek conventions. He's better known as Michael Dante, a TV and movie actor from the late 1950s through the 1980s.

Michael Dante as Crazy Horse
 in the 1967 TV series Custer.

Dante appeared in more than 50 movies and 150 television episodes, but is best known today for a single guest appearance as the alien Maab in the "Friday's Child" episode of Star Trek in 1967. That same year he had a recurring role as Chief Crazy Horse in the TV series Custer.
Dante's tall, dark, leading-man good looks got him his break in Hollywood, but his ability to adapt to a wide variety of roles kept him busy in show biz for more than three decades.
The actor known as Michael Dante was born Ralph Vitti in 1931, in Stamford, Conn. He played ball and began studying acting at the University of Miami. In 1949, the Boston Braves discovered him playing semi-pro ball in a fast New England league and signed him to a pro contract at the age of 18.

Ralph Vitti/Michael Dante in a 1950s studio portrait.

He played shortstop for three seasons in the minor leagues, never rising above the Class B level, generally hitting under .250 with no power.

In 1950 he was with Class D Olean (Pony League) and Owensboro (Kitty League). At age 19, he was with Alexander City (Class D Georgia-Alabama League), Gloversville-Johnston (Class C Canadian-American League) and Fayetteville (Class B Carolina League).

After injuring his arm, he sat out the 1952 season, and left pro ball after a brief comeback in 1953 with Pocatello of the Pioneer League (Class C).
His first acting job came in the 1956 movie Somebody Up There Likes Me. For the 30 years he had guest roles in many of the TV Westerns of the time, along with soap operas, cop shows, etc.
You can view his "filmography" at the Internet Movie Database, and his minor league baseball career at . Be sure to search under Michael Dante on the former site, and Ralph Vitti on the latter. Vitti/Dante never got high enough up in professional baseball ranks to appear on any baseball cards, but in 2002 and 2007, on the 35th and 40th anniversaries of Star Trek, he appeared on autographed cards in sets produced by Rittenhouse Archives.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Cannon was prize in NFL-AFL draft war

Uncommon commons: In more than 30 years in sportscards publishing I have thrown hundreds of notes into files about the players – usually non-star players – who made up the majority of the baseball and football cards I collected as a kid. Today, I keep adding to those files as I peruse microfilms of The Sporting News from the 1880s through the 1960s. I found these tidbits brought some life to the player pictures on those cards. I figure that if I enjoyed them, you might too.

I was barely cognizant of college football in 1959. Thus I have no first-hand recollection of that most heartbreaking of Ole Miss losses, on Halloween night when LSU’s Billy Cannon’s 89-yard punt return gave the Tigers a 7-3 victory and possibly cost the Rebels the national championship.

Ole Miss got its revenge in the Sugar Bowl, shutting out LSU 21-0, including the first touchdown pass thrown them in 14 games, while holding the Tigers to a negative 15 yards of offense. Cannon was held to eight yards on six carries.

Winner of the Heisman Trophy, Billy Cannon was one of the biggest names to appear in Fleer’s inaugural American Football League card set in the summer of 1960.

As I mentioned on the back of my 1955 All-American style custom card of Cannon, he went on to a modestly successful pro football career before turning to dentistry and counterfeiting.

Until I read the microfilm of The Sporting News for 1960, however, I was unaware of the NFL-AFL bidding war for which Cannon was the prize.

He was the L.A. Rams first-round selection in the NFL draft, but under the goal posts in New Orleans after the Sugar Bowl, Cannon signed a contract to play for the Houston Oilers.

Rams’ general manager Pete Rozelle fumed, threatening to take Cannon and the Oilers to court, claiming, “I have a legal, valid and binding contract with Cannon.”

What did it take for the Oilers to sign Cannon?

According to TSN, Houston gave Cannon a signing bonus and three-year contract that totaled $100,000.

Off-season, Cannon would join Houston owner Bud Adams in the “oil bidness,” operating three service stations for $1,000 a month each, plus 50 percent of the profits.

Cannon also received a band new Cadillac.

Left open for discussion was a proposal for Cannon to lend his name to a chain of “Billy Cannon Health Centers” that Adams would open throughout Texas.

Obviously the Oilers hadn’t been scared off by Cannon’s lackluster performance in the Sugar Bowl. And their confidence must have been restored on Jan. 10, when he starred in the East’s 34-8 win over the West in the Hula Bowl.

In his last college football game, playing for his LSU coach Paul Dietzel, Cannon returned a punt 59 yards for a touchdown in the first three minutes of the game. He scored again on a 12-yard pass from Penn State’s Richie Lucas and capped his college career with a four-yard TD run.

Today, Billy Cannon’s rookie card (at top) in the 1960 Fleer set is among the most valuable of that issue, worth $25-40 in NM condition. The 1955 All-American card shown here is my custom card tribute to Cannon.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Jim Lindsey was no goober

Uncommon commons: In more than 30 years in sportscards publishing I have thrown hundreds of notes into files about the players – usually non-star players – who made up the majority of the baseball and football cards I collected as a kid. Today, I keep adding to those files as I peruse microfilms of The Sporting News from the 1880s through the 1960s. I found these tidbits brought some life to the player pictures on those cards. I figure that if I enjoyed them, you might too.

Jim Lindsey was the ace reliever of the 1930 St. Louis Cardinals. He was big ol’ boy from Jackson, La., who rarely ventured north of the Mason-Dixon line except on baseball business.

Perhaps that’s why Cards GM Branch Rickey thought he could hornswaggle Lindsey in a salary negotiation.

Towards the end of the 1930 season, Lindsey went into Rickey’s office to discuss terms for 1931.

“I started to tell Rickey that I had been in 22 winning games,” Lindsey recalled. “Then I noticed that Branch stepped on a dummy bell device. The phone rang. He picked it up and made up a conversation with someone connected to the Houston farm club.

“When Rickey hung up, he moaned that the club was set back financially because at the moment he had received word of a tragedy in Houston. Rickey said that the Cardinals had been offered $100,000 for a Houston shortstop, but the kid had broken his leg the night before.”

Hoping that Lindsey would sympathize and be inclined to take less money, Rickey smiled manfully and said, “Now, what were we talking about, Jim?”

Lindsey said that he’d tell Rickey as soon as B.R. explained the phony phone device. Trapped, Rickey confessed and quickly offered Lindsey a $2,000 raise.

That was big boost in those days, and Lindsey quickly snapped it up.

After retiring from baseball, Lindsey went to work for the state of Louisiana, supervising the farms at five mental institutions.

Lindsey didn’t appear on any of the mainstream bubblegum cards of the 1930s, but he is included in the 1931 Cardinals team photo pack, and probably a few other regional issues.

The card pictured here is from the 1974 TCMA “Gas House Gang” team set of the 1934 Cardinals.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Middle-aged umpires + Twenty-something "dancers" = trouble

Uncommon commons: In more than 30 years in sportscards publishing I have thrown hundreds of notes into files about the players – usually non-star players – who made up the majority of the baseball and football cards I collected as a kid. Today, I keep adding to those files as I peruse microfilms of The Sporting News from the 1880s through the 1960s. I found these tidbits brought some life to the player pictures on those cards. I figure that if I enjoyed them, you might too.

Two of the umpires featured in the 1955 Bowman high-numbers subset of arbiters nearly appeared in the pages of a scandal sheet when they were victims of the old badger game in 1960.

On Aug. 26, while working games in Washington, D.C., American League umpires Bill McKinley, age 50, and Ed Runge, 42, met a 21-year-old stripper in the Gaity Supper Club, which The Sporting News described as “a joint on Baltimore’s ‘The Block,’ a section of gaudy raucous night clubs.”

The stripper, said to specialize in the Egyptian belly dance, was introduced to the umpires by the club’s manager.

Two nights later, the umpires found themselves at a Hyattsville, Md., motel, with the stripper and another dancer, age 24.

Two men soon burst into the room with a camera, snapped a photo and said, See you in court,” before fleeing.

The umpires returned to their hotel in Washington, and after a night of “soul-searching” decided to call in the Baltimore police.

That night, an envelope with a print of the incriminating photo and a phone number was slipped under the umps’ hotel room door.

Phoning the number, they were instructed to meet after the next day’s game and warned that, unless payment was made, the “picture would be sent to some scandal magazine and the American League president,” and possibly the umpires’ homes.

The initial blackmail demand was for $5,000 in exchange for the negative. When Runge and McKinley said they couldn’t come up with that kind of money, one of the extortionists told them, “You can square this thing by doing business on the field,” an offer the umpires said they turned down immediately.

Following several phone and personal negotiations, the blackmailers agreed to settle for $3,000 and a game to be thrown.

Just like on television, when the blackmailers met the umpires at a Baltimore airport, the police were waiting.

According to New York sports columnist Dick Young, “The two shakedown artists were tough, gun-carrying hoods.” Young said that when the trap was set, one state trooper “was stationed with a tommy-gun, another with a shotgun, at opposite ends of the waiting room."

The two cameramen and the dancer who had first made contact with Runge and McKinley were charged with attempted extortion. The second stripper was held as a material witness, presumably upon her agreement to testify against the others. She told the papers, “It is the old story—you can’t be too careful about the company you keep.”

American League president Joe Cronin said, “I’m happy that the umpires reported the incident. It’s the first time in 75 years that anyone has tried to tamper with an umpire.”

Cronin then granted the umps’ “request” for a leave of absence for the remaining three weeks of the season.

In praising Cronin for his actions, The Sporting News later said that the league president had “furloughed” the frisky umpires. “There are overtones and undertones to all this that are not altogether happy,” TSN editorialized, pointing out that if allowed back on the field “until the whole thing is settled,” Runge and McKinley “could be the subject of criticism or abuse.” You think?

In the tradition of many other wives of politicians, celebrities and athletes caught with their hand in the nookie jar, Runge’s wife publicly stood beside him and “declared she was satisfied her husband had done nothing wrong.”

“They don’t come any better than Ed,” Mrs. Runge said, “He’s never done anything to be ashamed of in his life.”

If Mrs. McKinley made any public statement, it was not reported by TSN.

I didn't read far enough ahead in The Sporting News to find out what justice was meted out to the blackmailers. There doesn't seem to have been any long-term consequences to McKinley's and Runge's umpiring careers arising from their indiscretion. McKinley continued to serve as an American League umpire until 1965, Runge until 1970.


Monday, August 1, 2011

Cards' Smith was hillbilly entertainer

Uncommon commons: In more than 30 years in sportscards publishing I have thrown hundreds of notes into files about the players – usually non-star players – who made up the majority of the baseball and football cards I collected as a kid. Today, I keep adding to those files as I peruse microfilms of The Sporting News from the 1880s through the 1960s. I found these tidbits brought some life to the player pictures on those cards. I figure that if I enjoyed them, you might too.

In an article in the May 4, 1960, Sporting News, Ralph Ray reviewed the off-field “talents” of various members of the St. Louis Cardinals whom he characterized as manager Solly Hemus’ “Rollicking Redbirds.”

The article was evidently an attempt to distract fans from the Cardinals 7th place finish in 1959 and questionable prospects for 1960, amid speculation that Stan Musial, who had batted a career low .255 in 1959, was through as a ballplayer. Musial rebounded some, to .275 in 1960, and the Cards finished third in the National League.

Among the hidden talents that Ray revealed was that catcher Hal R. Smith (not to be confused with Hal W. Smith, also a catcher, for the Pirates), “the club’s No. 1 entertainer, plays a mean boogie-woogie piano.”

Labeling Smith as a “bench wit . . . sharp with repartee,” Ray said that Smith was a writer of western songs, with two dozen titles among his credits.

Noting that none of Smith’s songs would, “threaten the hit parade,” Ray listed some of the titles as “Robot Romp,” “”Sittin’, Spittin and Whittlin’,” “Pretty Near But Not Plumb,” “30 Yards of Petticoat and a Nickel’s Worth of Gum,” and “I’ve Got a Churnful of Chitlins and a Belly Full of You.” Hal wrote the lyrics, his brother Ronald, a former minor leaguer, wrote the music.

Ray reported that Smith’s music had been performed on the network live network TV program “Ozark Jubilee,” and that his “30 Yards of Petticoat . . .” had been recorded by a C&W group called the Baraga Brothers, though a google-search of that name comes up empty.

Early Sunday mornings, Smith appeared on KMOX radio as a “hillbilly disc jockey.” He told the reporter disc jockeying was something he would pursue after baseball.

Mindful of the need to maintain fan interest, the team hired Smith to work the off-season as a speaker. He appeared before more than 100 groups after the 1959 season, entertaining the fans with baseball story and introducing Cardinals films played for the audiences.

Smith had debuted with St. Louis in 1956. He'd been an All-Star in 1959, batting .270 with 13 home runs. He played with the Cardinals into the 1961 season, when her was diagnosed with a heart condition that ended his playing career. He coached with the Cardinals, Pirates, Reds and Brewers after his playing days. He had a four-game "comeback" with Pittsburgh in 1965, and was 0-for-3.

Tim Flannery, an infielder with the San Diego Padres 1979-1989, is Smith's nephew.