Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Occasionally in the past I have posted about how the prices of high-tech consumer goods have dropped so precipitously over the past 50 years.

I was struck by another example while paging through a 1965 issue of National Geographic.

There was an ad for the Kodak Instamatic 800 camera.  The camera was one of the first to use "drop-and-load" technology of film cartridges.

Besides such convenient film loading, the Instamatic 800 was advertised as "automatically" adjusting for film speed, advancing the film for each exposure, adjusting the lens and flash speed, etc.

All of these technological advances were available for "less than $130." (That's ad-speak for $129.95.)

As I am wont to do in such instances, I am going to provide an inflation-adjusted comparison of that $130 to today's dollars. It's $889.

On reflection, that $900 seems to be about right for a high-end digital camera today.

Just as there were lower-price cameras available in 1965, there are cheaper alternatives today. A sturdy little digital point-and-shoot camera can be found all over at $10 or so. And today's $10 camera can do everything the "$889" Instamatic 800 did . . . and more.

If you're nostalgic for a Kodak Instamatic 800, I see they are widely available on eBay for less than $25 for a complete camera kit with case, flash bulbs, manual, other accessories, etc. Finding film and getting it processed is likely not so easy.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Martin survived wolves, Nazis, auto wreck

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.

Have you seen the new Liam Neeson movie The Gray yet -- plane crash survivors, Alaska wilderness, computer-generated wolves, etc.? I haven’t, and I won’t until it debuts on one of the DirecTV premium movie channels. (You can read my rant about movies in theaters at the end of this post.)

A feature I found in the April 9, 1952, issue of The Sporting News brought the movie to mind.

Written by Art Morrow, who covered the Philadelphia Athletics for TSN, the piece was about the “charmed life” of  A’s pitcher Morrie Martin.

Martin had been the A’s leading pitcher in winning percentage in 1951, with an 11-4 record. He beat every American League team at least once during the season and had done no worse than break even in the W-L column with each of them.

During the off-season, Martin picked up a little pin money by shooting wolves near his home at Washington, Mo., in the foothills of the Ozarks. There was a $10 bounty on the predators, but one of those wolf hides came pretty dear for Morris.

As he told the story, Martin said he had shot the wolf. Thinking him dead, he bent down to roll it over when the animal snarled and lashed out. “He’d been playing possum,” Martin said. “Well, I guess I could have placed in the Olympic high jump,” the A’s pitcher quipped, “but the wolf was quicker I was. He got me.”

Morris backpedaled three steps then shot the wolf again. Morrow said, “his rapacious adversary could play only permanent possum.”

The wolf’s claws had raked Morris, leaving a jagged wound from ankle to thigh. Writing in late March, Morrow said, “Morrie still has to douse the scab with antiseptic two-three times a week, and the scar may last a long time.”

The wolf scar wasn’t the only disfigurement Martin carried with him into spring training. He was sporting a shin bruise that was still black and blue, the result of an October auto accident that nearly killed him and his family.

Martin had been behind the wheel of the family car, “cruising along at 60-65 miles per hour,” when he crested a blind hill and his left front tire hit a pile of cinders in the road. The car careened out of control, Martin was thrown sideways and knocked unconscious. His wife and two children were relatively unscathed. The concussion that Martin sustained bothered him for several weeks.

“It would take more than a wolf or an auto to kill Morris Martin,” the reporter continued. “The Nazis had numerous tries at it without success when he served in the Combat Engineers. They shot him three times in three invasions—Africa, Sicily, France—which is par for any war.

“They even bayoneted him in Germany,” Morrow continued, “But the best they could do was a bullet-hole through the thigh in the Battle of the Bulge. That finally took him out of action.”

Despite the wolf attack and auto wreck, Martin allowed he’d had “a good winter . . . Got 305 quail and once I went up into Nebraska and shot 16 pheasants.”

Martin's good luck didn't hold far into the 1952 season, however. In a May 10 game against the Senators, Martin broke the index finger on his throwing hand trying to field a hot smash off the bat of Mickey Vernon. He was sidelined for the remainder of the season.

 RANT: As promised, here’s my rant about movies in theaters. The last one I went to was the remake of The Longest Yard at a theater in San Antonio. The volume at which the movie played was very nearly intolerable. I guess these days the theaters have to blast the audio to allow the movie to be heard above the knuckleheads talking and the cell phones ringing. I don’t know if that was an aberration or the new normal, but I’m not about to find out any time soon.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Jansen owned Reds; Maglie owned Pirates

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.

Last time I shared with you the unusual success that N.Y. Giants pitcher Dave Koslo enjoyed over the St. Louis Cardinals, winning 13 straight decisions between 1950-52.

But Koslo wasn't the only Giants pitcher of that era that enjoyed mastery over a particular team.

On July 26, 1952, Larry Jansen notched his 12th consecutive win over the Cincinnati Reds. It was a streak that dated back to Aug. 29, 1948, and gave him a lifetime 19-2 record against the Reds. 

Cincinnati finally broke the jinx on Aug. 25, beating Jansen 3-0 and knocking him out of the box in the fifth inning.

That was the last time Jansen faced the Reds in 1952. Following that loss, he opened the 1953 season by running off five more consecutive winning decisions over Cincinnati, improving his record against that team to 24-3. The last time he faced Cincinnati, on Sept. 3, 1953, he lost 9-2, and lasted only into the third inning.

While Koslo was fattening his record on the Cardinals, and Jansen was beating up on the Reds, moundmate Sal Maglie was owning the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Between May 6, 1950 and June 6, 1952, the Barber had clipped the Bucs for 13 straight decisions. After losing 8-1 to the Pirates on June 6, he dropped a July 11 decision, following with a win on Sept. 11.

Maglie's first game against Pittsburgh in the 1953 season was a loss on April 21. He evened the record with a May 10 win, and his only other game against the Pirates had a no-decision on July 1.

In 1954 Maglie was perfect against the Pirates, winning twice and adding a save. In 1955, he was 2-0 in decisions against Pittsburgh before he was waived into the American League with the Indians. 

The Dodgers brought him back to the National League in mid-May, 1956, and with Brooklyn he was 5-1 against the Pirates until he was picked up by the Yankees on waivers on Sept. 1, 1957.

In his brief return to the N.L., with St. Louis (June 22-Aug. 31, 1958), he lost 2-0 in his only appearance versus Pittsburgh. Maglie's lifetime record against the Pirates was 25-6. Interestingly, he had a better lifetime won-loss percentage record against the Chicago Cubs(15-2), but never had a real lengthy consecutive-win streak against them.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Williams touched father-son for homers --Update

1960 Fleer
I gave a lot of space late last month to Ted Williams, but I recently learned of a bit of TW trivia that seems worthy of passing along.

On Sept. 2, 1960, his last season playingh in the majors, Williams hit the 517th home run of his career (his 25th of the season) off Washington Senators pitcher Don Lee. Williams took Lee's pitch in the bottom of the eighth inning into deep center field at Fenway Park. It was the only run the Red Sox scored in a 5-1 loss.

Later, it was widely speculated that this might have been the first time that a major league player had ever recorded a home run off father-son pitchers. Williams said he recalled hitting "one or two" home runs off "Thorny," Don Lee's father, Thornton Lee.

According to the game logs on, it was one home run, in Williams' rookie season.

1960 Topps

That home run was the 28th for Williams in 1939, so naturally it was also the 28th of his major league career. The blast came in the bottom of the fourth at Fenway, and as was the case 21 years later, it was the Red Sox' only run in a 6-1 loss to Thornton Lee's Chicago White Sox.

1936 National Chicle Fine Pen

There've been more than a dozen father-son pitchers in the major leagues, but a quick review didn't turn up any instances where they both yielded home runs to the same batter. I'm not saying it didn't happen before Ted Williams, or after, but I didn't find it. If you know of another, post a comment.

Feb. 22, 2012 update . . . 
I just learned that Thornton and Don Lee also gave up home run balls to another player, though Don's gopher ball came while he was not yet pitching professionally.

1953 Topps
Pitching for the N.Y. Giants in 1948, his last year in the majors, Thornton Lee came on in relief after starter Sheldon Jones had been tagged for four runs in the first inning against the Brooklyn Dodgers. Lee gave up a home run to Dodgers first baseman Preston Ward on the way to taking the loss in a 17-7 rout. 

In 1952, while 18-year-old Don Lee was pitching for the Casa Grande (Ariz.) Cotton Kings in the American Baseball Congress amateur tournament in Wichita, he gave up a home run and a double to Ward, who was playing with the U.S. Army's Ft. Leonard Wood team that eventually came in second in the tourney. Don took the loss in the 5-2 game. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Giants' Koslo was Cardinal killer

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.

This is the second time I've had occasion to post about former N.Y. Giants and Milwaukee Braves pitcher Dave Koslo; the first time was my May 31, 2011 entry.

Back when I was publisher at Sports Collectors Digest, Koslo's grandson was one of my ad salesmen. Koslo had been born and died in Mensaha, Wis., less than an hour east of our headquarters in Iola. I once did a column in SCD about Koslo's gravesite in Menasha. His black marble headstone features a thick glass "window" behind which is a color pitcher of Koslo while with the Giants. 

If I recall correctly, along with a few of his career stats, there is an inscription on the marker along the lines of, "He was something of an iron man."

The St. Louis Cardinals of 1950-52 probably had a different nickname for him. 

While poring over the 1952 run of The Sporting News microfilm, I discovered that between June 11, 1950, and Sept. 14, 1952, Koslo won 13 straight decisions over the Cardinals. During that stretch he also racked up two saves and six no-decisions.

I'm sure there are similar winning streaks by other pitchers against a particular team, but I found this one appealing because Koslo was related to an old acquaintance and was a former Milwaukee Brave.

By the way, while with the Braves, Koslo pitched against the Cardinals three times, having no decisions in two of the games and the historic loss mentioned in my May 31, 2011, entry. 

In our next posting, I'll look at a couple of Koslo's moundmates who also enjoyed prolonged mastery over particular teams.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Latest custom: A card for Vallie Eaves -- updated 2/20/12

As a teenager and young adult, the closest thing my father and I had to a common interest was baseball. Besides fueling my childhood card collecting passion with the occasional and always unexpected purchase of a nickel wax pack, Dad's baseball stories awakened in me a lifelong interest in baseball history.

Raised in Fond du Lac, Wis., my dad's favorite major league team when he was growing up was the Chicago Cubs. In the years just before he went off to war, one of the Cubs top farm clubs was the Milwaukee Brewers of the American Association.

While Fond du Lac had its own Class D professional team in those days, the Brewers and Cubs were clearly the fan favorites in town. Dad would tell me about a fellow could walk all over town on a hot summer day and follow the Brewers or the Cubs game in progress emanating from the radios in living rooms and front porches along the way.

He told me countless stories of the characters harbored on those teams in that era: "Dim" Dom Dallasandro, Lou "The Mad Russian" Novikoff, Dizzy Dean, Paul Erickson (with whom Dad golfed in the Sixties), and a pitcher named Vallie Eaves.

Using language that was more common in those less politically correct days, Dad related how Eaves was the stereotypical drunken Indian ballplayer.

Those stories were recalled recently when I found on an internet sales site, a George Burke/Brace portrait photo of Eaves in a White Sox uniform. 

The famed Chicago baseball photographers would have had to have been on the top of their game to catch Eaves in a major league uniform. For, while he pitched professionally for 19 seasons between 1935-1957, he was in the majors for only bits and pieces of five seasons. 

At the age of 23, Connie Mack's scouts caught his starring performance in the first National Semi-Pro Tournament in 1935. The Philadelphia A's signed him and brought him immediately to the major leagues. He won his first-ever professional game, beating the White Sox 4-3 while pitching the distance on Sept. 12. 

Eaves got two more starts that season, but proved to be ill-matched at the big league level and lost them both.

After four years of seasoning in the minors and back in semi-pro ball, Eaves pulled off a 21-10 season with Shreveport in the Texas League and was called up by the Chicago White Sox in mid-September. He lost his only start, but was retained on the big league as the 1940 season opened.

Between April 22-May 9, Eaves pitched in five games, with three starts, but had an 0-2 record when he was released to Toronto. Through the remainder of 1940 and into mid-1941, Eaves had a 7-26 record but the Chicago Cubs were still willing to give him a chance. At Milwaukee he was 4-6 when the Cubs called him up on Aug. 12.

Eaves pitched in a dozen games for the 1941 Cubs, including seven starts. His record was 3-3.

Because the Cubs played only day games, Eaves volunteered to Milwaukee manager Charlie Grimm that he would continue to pitch night games in Milwaukee, if desired. 

Grimm did not take Eaves up on his offer. Jolly Cholly later claimed that during Eaves' time with Milwaukee, the pitcher had taking a particularly bad shelling and left the game and the clubhouse immediately. Later that night, Grimm received a phone call from the night watchman at Borchert Field. The security guard said there was a player there with a can of gasoline, a pile of newspaper kindling and a box of matches, threatening to light himself up.

Rushing to the ballpark, Grimm found the suicidal player was a drunken Eaves. He talked Eaves out of striking the match, telling him that if he's wait until after the season, Grimm would assist him in self-immolation.

After appearing in two games with the Cubs in April, 1942, with no decisions and a 9.00 ERA, Eaves was done as a major leaguer. His swan song came on May 19, when Cubs' manager Jimmy Wilson suspended Eaves and sent him back to Chicago for being drunk when he showed up at Ebbets Field for a Sunday doubleheader against the Dodgers.

One account, perhaps apocryphal, says that with major league-caliber pitchers in such short supply during World War II, the Cubs offered Eaves yet another chance for redemption, inviting him to spring training. If the account is to be believed, Eaves dutifully showed up at the Cubs' traditional spring training home on Catalina Island. The Cubs, however, because of wartime travel restrictions, were in spring training at French Lick, Ind. If the story is true, it would have been one of Eaves' most memorable no-shows.

As a major leaguer, Eaves had appeared in 24 games over five seasons with a 4-8 record and 4.58 ERA.

Only 30 years old, Eaves embarked on a 15-year odyssey of the western minor leagues, usually playing for two, three or four teams in a given season. As often as he would drink himself off one team, another manager would be convinced that he could control Eaves' thirst and would give him another chance.

He spent the 1943 season with Chattanooga and Montgomery in the Southern Association and Minneapolis of the American Association. A reinjury to a leg that had been badly damaged in childhood caused Eaves to sit out the entire 1944 season.

Fellow Oklahoman Pepper Martin, no stranger to the eccentricities of ballplayers, in 1945 convinced San Diego Padres owner Bill Starr to bail Eaves out of jail and put him on the mound. By late-July, Martin had gotten fed up with Eaves' antics.

Vallie Eaves in a George Burke/Brace photo
with the Chicago White Sox circa 1939-40.
An Associated Press account dated July 23 from Oakland ran under the headline, "Martin Cuffs Pitcher Eaves".

The newspaper article read, "Manager Pepper Martin of the San Diego baseball team conceded today that he 'slapped' Pitcher Vallie Eaves in a hotel lobby here last night. Witnesses related, however, that the 'slap' was a hard right-hand punch to the chin.

"'He had it coming to him,' the volatile Martin declared, 'He let me down during the game yesterday, besides upsetting the discipline of the club and setting a bad example for the rest of the players.'

"Eaves, who stands a head taller than the former St. Louis Cardinals star, has been suspended five times for breaking training, Martin declared, and this is 'positively his last chance.'

"Eaves lasted three innings as a relief hurler in the second game with Oakland yesterday. The Oaks won the game and the series."

After stints with Texarkana and Oklahoma City in 1946, Eaves was back with the Padres briefly at the end of the season, winning one and losing three.

After that, Eaves never played at a higher level than Class B for the rest of his career, though he did have some singular successes. In 1947 he led the Big State League with 25 wins (and only five losses) for Texarkana. With Lufkin/Leesville in 1950 he led the Gulf Coast League with 26 wins.

On Aug. 21, 1952, he pitched a no-hitter over Natchez to give his Meridian team the Cotton States League pennant. It was nearly a perfect game, only one batter reached first, on a base on balls . . . and Eaves drove in the first two of Meridian's runs.

After a 13-13 season in 1954, spread over four teams in two leagues, Eaves left professional baseball until 1957, when at the age of 45, he joined his son, Jerry on the Hobbs (N.M.) Sports in the Class B Southwestern League. Vallie was 2-4 with a 9.17 ERA for Hobbs. His 20-year-old son was 1-0 on the mound.

As a minor leaguer for 18 seasons between 1936-1957, Vallie Eaves pitched in 549 games. He had a 228-176 record and an ERA of approximately 3.94. Records of the era do not allow his strikeouts or walks totals to be compiled. He played for at least 30 different teams in Organized Baseball, pitching semi-pro several times in between those gigs.

Eaves died in 1960, at the age of 48.

For all his lengthy baseball career. I'm not aware that Vallie Eaves appeared on any career-contemporary baseball cards or collectibles. While the White Sox and Cubs both produced team picture packs in the years he pitched with them, Eaves either wasn't on the team when the photos were taken, or missed his appointment with the photographer.

My custom card was done in the style of 1941 Play Ball, though of course I had to take some liberties with the timing of his stint with the Chicago Cubs. The card is intended to represent a late-season "update" to the '41PB, whose original set was limited to just 72 cards.

I could have opted to picture Eaves with the White Sox, but by the time the 1941 _Play Ball cards were issued, he had been off the team for nearly a year.

Frankly, my Vallie Eaves card is not among my best work. Converting a black-and-white photo as a White Sox to the soft pastel look of the 1941 Play Balls as a Cub was a challenge that I was unable to master. I did learn, though, a few things about Photoshop that might stand me in good stead if I attempt to work in that genre again.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Dutch Leonard died a wealthy man -- updated

1917 Boston Store.
 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.

 "Many fans and others in baseball, who noted the extent of the estate of the late H.B. (Dutch) Leonard, wondered how a former ball player could accumulate so much money."

So began an article in a 1953 edition of The Sporting News detailing the estate left by Hubert Benjamin Leonard when he died in 1952 (on my first birthday, July 1). The newspaper account concerned Dutch the Elder, who pitched in the majors from 1913-1925. Dutch the Younger (Emil John) was active from 1933-53.

H.B. Leonard had been born in Ohio in 1892, but made his way to California where he pitched for two seasons (1910-11) for St. Mary's College,  near Oakland. (Among the two dozen or so major leaguers who played for St. Mary's since the 19th Century were Harry Hooper, Duffy Lewis, Frank Kelleher, Andy Carey, Tom Candiotti and, in this century, Mark Teahen. Hal Chase coached the team circa 1907.)

Connie Mack gave Leonard a look-see in 1911, but he never actually played for the Athletics. He entered Organized Baseball at the age of 20 in 1912, pitching for Denver in the Western League (Class A). It was his only year in the minor leagues. He won 22 games, lost nine and had a 2.50 ERA.

1922 E220 National Caramel.
 The Boston Red Sox signed Leonard for 1913, and he spent six seasons there. With the young Babe Ruth, Leonard formed the left-handed heart of the Red Sox staff. Dutch won 90 games, losing 64 for Boston. In 1914 he led the major leagues with an ERA of 0.96, a modern-era record that still stands.

When World War I curtailed the 1918 season, Leonard went to work in the shipyards. In December, 1918, he was traded to the Yankees in a multi-player deal, but never pitched for New York.

Embroiled in salary negotiations, Leonard went back to California to pitch for Fresno in the outlaw San Joaquin League. The Tigers purchased his contract in mid-May, 1919. 

Leonard pitched only moderately well for Detroit from 1919-21, winning 35 and losing 43. During that period he wrangled frequently and bitterly with Tigers' manager Ty Cobb. When Tigers' owner Frank Navin tried to make Leonard swallow a salary cut from the $9,000 he made in 1921, Leonard again bolted for the Coast, pitching the next two seasons for Fresno.

Returning to OB and the Tigers in mid-August, 1924, Leonard picked up his feud with Cobb while working to a 3-2 record. The feud reached a peak in 1925, when Cobb hung Leonard out to dry in a July 14 game against the A's. Cobb left Leonard on the mound for the entire game while the A's racked up a dozen runs.

Five days later, against the Yankees, Leonard was ahead 12-4 in the fifth inning when Cobb yanked him off the mound. Leonard got the win, 18-12, bringing his record for the year to 11-4, but was released, ending his pro career . . . but not his hatred of Ty Cobb.

A year later, Leonard approached American League president Ban Johnson about what he claimed was a conspiracy by Cobb and Cleveland Indians manager Tris Speaker to throw a game on Sept. 24, 1919, so that Cobb's Tigers could win third-place money. Leonard presented letters from some of the parties containing references to bets having been placed on the game. 

Johnson took the allegations seriously, and his investigation forced Cobb and Speaker to resign their managers' positions, though they remained in the league as players for the 1927 season, Cobb with the A's and Speaker with the Senators. When baseball ccommissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis began his own investigation, but when Leonard refused to leave his California home to travel to Landis' office in Chicago to back up his allegations, the commissioner's inquiry died.

1916 M101-5 blank back.
All of this has been reported in baseball journals and books, but I found, in the 1953 Sporting News account, a tidbit I had not seen before.

In the article headlined "Dutch Leonard Good Businessman Back in 1910," the sporting weekly said, "It was not generally known, but Ban Johnson, when president of the American League, paid Leonard $25,000 for a special service, presumably in assisting him in checking on reported gambling."

The article continued to detail how prosperous the pitcher had become in his post-baseball days around Fresno. "It may be that Dutch parlayed that 25 grand with other money he had accumulated as a star pitcher, to develop his fortune, appraised by the executors of his estate at $2,169,143.33.He operated a large ranch under the name of Leonard Bros., and owned one of the largest grape-growing, packing, shipping and storage businesses in San Joaquin Valley. His property holdings totaled 2,500 acres.

Leonard died at the age of 60, of complications from a stroke suffered in 1944.

The Sporting News continued its report, "The appraisal showed the estate included $133,385 worth of packing house materials, $96,329 in revolving funds of wineries, about $65,000 in savings accounts, $55,000 in life insurance, $40,000 in accounts receivable and other farm equipment."

1979 Topps

When not accumulating his fortune, Leonard was, according to TSN, "a collector of musical records . . . the estate also including more than $5,000 in records (reportedly as many as 15,000 discs), recorders, phonographs and other electronic equipment. There also was included 100 reels of educational film, three projection screens, and a 16 mm projector."

In his leisure time, when not listening to his records or watching his (ahem) educational films, Leonard was an avid golfer. Before a heart attack in 1942, he was rated as among the best left-handed golfers in California.

According to an inflation calculator, the $2.17 million estate Leonard left in 1952 had a value equivalent to $18.3 million in today's dollars.

At the time of his death, Leonard was single. In 1917 he had married vaudeville performer Muriel Worth, who divorced him five years later. The couple apparently had no children. 

The terms of Leonard's will left his estate to his housekeeper, a sister-in-law and three nephews. It appears that a sister, another nephew and a niece were not among his heirs.

His cards are generally priced among the "commons," but for the length of his major league service, he appears on surprisingly few contemporary cards. He is shown on a 1979 Topps Record Holder card and has a similar card in one of the 1985 Topps "boxed" retail sets.  He appears on several cards in the 1990s Conlon Collection series and a few other collectors' issues.

Friday, February 17, 2012

1966 Pro's Pizza Cubs checklist expanded

Even though I am officially retired from cataloging vintage baseball cards, I still have the desire to help promulgate, for the benefit of current and future collectors, the type of information that was the staple of the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards for 30 years.

This is especially true when I can use this forum as a vehicle for other hobbyists who unselfishly want to expand the knowledge base.

Thus I'm promulgating the report by veteran Florida collector Larry Serota of four additions to the checklist of the 1966 Pro's Pizza Chicago Cubs boxtop cards.

In the mid-1960s, Pro's Pizza was a concessionaire  at Wrigley Field, Comiskey Park and Soldier's Field, selling individual serving pizzas to those in attendance at Cubs, White Sox and Bears games.  

In that era, the pizzas were sold in single-serving boxes that featured on their lids player pictures. 

The earliest of the issues was a set of 1966 Chicago Cubs. The "card" portion of the box was about 6" x 6" and featured a large black-and-white player photo at left with white-and-red stripes and sports action drawings at right.

The checklist for this set has been developing for more than 15 years. The most recent edition (2012) of the Standard Catalog showed 16 Cubs.  They were . . . 
Ted Abernathy
Joe Amalfitano
George Altman
Ernie Banks
Ernie Broglio
Billy Connors
Dick Ellsworth
Bill Faul
Bill Hoeft
Ken Holtzman
Randy Hundley
Ferguson Jenkins
Chris Krug
Ron Santo
Carl Warwick 
Billy Williams

Now, as a result of Serota's relentless scouring of obscure issues being offered on eBay, four more players can be added to the checklist . . . 
Byron Browne
John Herrnstein
Adolfo Phillips
Jim Stewart

Serota points out that Herrnstein had a very short tenure with the Cubs. He came to Chicago from the Phillies with Jenkins and Phillips on April 21, and was traded to the Atlanta Braves on May 29. He appeared in only nine games for Chicago, most as a pinch-hitter.

The four newly reported Pro's Pizza Cubs from 1966 were sold on eBay on Jan. 28, 2012. In typical "ballpark-used" condition, i.e., with creases, stains, poorly cut, etc., the prices realized were $135 for Browne, $171 for Phillips, $267 for Stewart, and a whopping $663 for Herrnstein. 

Together with the sale of three other 1966 Pro's Pizza Cubs a week earlier -- Jenkins and Hundley at $165 and Ellsworth at $345 -- indications are that "book" values for the set are too low. The Standard Catalog lists typical players at $160 in NM, $80 in EX and $50 in VG, with Hall of Famers at 2-3X those figures and Banks about 4X.

Now at 20 players, it is certainly possible the '66 checklist will continue to expand in the future. Among the regular position players not yet confirmed are Don Kessinger and Glenn Beckert.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Mudcat rebelled against baseball bigotry

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 my last posting, I promised to relate an account of Mudcat Grant's refusal to abide racial intolerance.

As I said then, Grant was generally considered an affable person, but as the 1960 season drew to a close, his refusal to tolerate bigotry, in baseball as well as in the wider world, more than a decade after Jackie Robinson had reintegrated the major leagues, had costly consequences. 

Rather than attempt to recap the incident, I'll rerun the article from the Sept. 28, 1960, issue of The Sporting News by Hal Lebovitz, who regularly covered the Cleveland Indians for the sports weekly.

           The season ended abruptly for Indians’ Pitcher Jim Grant. He is spending the final two weeks—without pay—at his home in Lacoochee, Fla. He was suspended by Manager Jimmie Dykes for leaving the ballpark without permission during the Indians-Athletics game, September 16.
            It all started out as a joke, but ended up on a deadly serious note.
            It was always Grant’s custom to sing “The Star Spangled Banner" when the band played it prior to each game. He was out in the bull pen this time and he sang loud and melodiously as the National Anthem was being played.
            At the line, “the land of the free,” the Negro righthander improvised with, “It’s not the land of the free for me in Mississippi.”
            A bull pen mate made some comment on Jim’s lyrics. It was nothing unpleasant, just conversation. Grant defended his line, adding that even in Cuba there was less discrimination.
            This caused Ted Wilks, a pitching coach, to speak up, and Grant, knowing that Wilks lives in Texas, came back with, “Russia is better than Texas.”
            At this, Wilks bristled, made a remark concerning Grant’s color.
            “I got so mad,” said Grant later, that I figured that if I stayed around I might not be able to control myself.”
            He went to the clubhouse, got dressed and left the park.
            Shortly after the game began, Dykes called the bull pen and asked to have Grant warm up. It was then Wilks told him what had happened.
            “I had no alternative but to suspend the boy,” Dykes said later. “There’s absolutely no excuse for walking out on the team.”
            Grant, after he cooled of somewhat realized this. Contritely, he phoned both Dykes and General Manager Frank Lane that night to apologize to them for his actions.
            “I realized what I did wasn’t fair to them and I wanted them to know I was sorry,” he said. “I don’t blame Jimmie for suspending me. He had to. He’s been good to me and I’m sorry I put him on the spot by walking off. I was so upset that I knew I wouldn’t be able to do the job if he called on me to pitch.”
            Others in the bull pen say that as soon as Wilks made the remark that inflamed Grant, the coach tried to apologize. He apologized to Don Newcombe, who accepted it, but Grant said later he wouldn’t accept any apology from Wilks.
            He admitted he never had any difficulty previously with Wilks. “We never did say much to each other,” he added. “But I’m sick of hearing remarks about colored people. I don’t have to stand there and take it.”
            He mentioned an earlier instance when a fellow bull pen inhabitant made a derogatory remark about a Negro spectator.
            “And Paul Richards has been calling me names lately,” Grant said. “A person can only take so much.”
            Richards, in New York, admitted he had called Grant “a name,” but insisted the Indians’ pitcher had asked for it.
            “I held off on Grant for a long time,” said the Baltimore manager, “but after he persisted in throwing at some of my hitters, I got on him just I would a white man.”
            “Anyone with any intelligence realizes the colored people carry a burden. But Grant is the kind of fellow who wants special privileges simply because he is a Negro.”

Grant pitched for the Indians into the1964 season, then spent 3-1/2 years with the Twins including posting two of Minnesota's three wins over the Dodgers in losing the 1965 World Series. In the last four years of his major league career he pitched for the Dodgers, Expos, Cardinals, Pirates and A's, leaving the big leagues after the 1971 season.

After his playing days, Mudcat was a television broadcaster for the Indians, Dodgers and A's. He has given back to baseball by serving on the board of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, on the Baseball Assistance Team and on the Major League Baseball Alumni Association

Saturday, February 11, 2012

"Beat Mudcat" pin's origins found

An enigmatic celluloid button that has been known baseball memorabilia collectors for more than 50 years reads simply BEAT / MUDCAT.  

While the hobby has long known that it referred to long-time major league pitcher Jim "Mudcat" Grant, the pin's origins had become lost to hobby history.

Some had speculated that the pin may have had its origins in the 1965 World Series, when Grant was the starting (and losing) pitcher for the Minnesota Twins  on Oct. 10, in Game 4 at the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Recently, I stumbled across the story of that pin while reading microfilms of back issues of The Sporting News for 1960.

Ever since his major league debut with the Cleveland Indians in 1958, Grant had had what used to be called (probably politically incorrectly) the "Indian sign" on the Washington Senators. Between May 22, 1958, and June 21, 1960, Grant had run up 13 straight wins over the Senators, without a losing decision. Inexplicably, he was 12-20 against the rest of the American League in that period.

Thus, when the Indians visited Griffith Stadium on July 2, 1960, the Senators handed out 2,000 "BEAT MUDCAT" pins and 2,000 rabbit's feet. Also designed to rev up the crowd of 11,331 and break the jinx, a local Boy Scout troop did a live pre-game snake dance on the pitcher's mound

It didn't work.

When Grant walked onto the field he was wearing one of the pins on each shoulder. He had put a piece of tape over the "BEAT" and written "WIN".

And win he did. Though the umpires made him remove the pins before the game began, Grant threw a four-hitter to beat the Senators 12-2 for his 14th straight win.

The streak was snapped in Grant's very next start against Washington. On July 17 he lost 3-2.

Grant pitched for seven big league teams between 1958-1971, with a career record of 145-119 on a 3.63 ERA.

While Mudcat was all smiles on his 1960 Topps card, and indeed on most of his baseball cards, and was by most accounts an affable soul, he could display an intolerance for racial intolerance. His willingness to stand up to baseball bigotry had serious consequences for Grant at the end of the 1960 season.

I'll give you the details in my next blog posting.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Newest custom: 1956 Tom Lasorda, K.C. A's

Among my favorite baseball card sets from childhood was the 1956 Topps issue. No longer forced to compete with Bowman for player contracts, the '56T set jumped to 310 cards from the previous year's lineup of 206, meaning that virtually of the day's stars were included (with the notable exception of Stan Musial).

While the '56s featured the same combinations of portraits and action photos that had been used in 1954-1955, the addition of real stadium backgrounds was an appealing innovation.

Today the 1956 format is one of favorite to use in creating custom cards. Because of the combination of elements needed to replicate that style, however,. it is one of the most challenging. I've recently completed my sixth custom in the '56T style and share it with you herewith.

The Kansas City Athletics were Lasorda's last stop as a major league player. He had been purchased from the Brooklyn Dodgers on March 2. After going 0-4 with the A's, he was sold to the New York Yankees on my fifth birthday, July 11, 1956. The Yankees immediately sent him to their AAA farm club in Denver.

Surprisingly, at least two photos of Lasorda in the uniform of the Kansas City Athletics have crossed my path in the past couple of years. As detailed in my posting of June 8, 2011, he appears on a team-issued postcard. More recently, I found a black-and-white publicity type photo of Lasorda with fellow A's pitching prospect Troy Harridge. That image was strong enough that I realized it would be possible to create a "card that never was," a 1956-style Lasorda-as-Athletic.

For the background of my custom card, I picked the 1956 Topps card of Bobby Shantz. You'll recognize that I reversed the background to allow me to orient the portrait of Lasorda facing his left so that he appears looking into the body of the card, rather than out the border. 

Cartoons from the back of three original 1956
Topps cards were re-purposed for my custom.
For the action picture, I found on a Lasorda website a much higher-resolution version of the picture that appears on the team-issued postcard. Like the portrait photo, it had to be colorized. As a bonus, that A's team-issue card had a facsimile signature of Lasorda's mid-1950s autograph.

If you're a real fan of Fifty-six Topps, you'll recognize that my attempts to convert photographs to artwork still leave something to be desired, but by the time the cards are printed, the look is not all that far off.

Creating the backs of '56-style custom cards can be the biggest challenge. I have to find cartoon on original cards that can be re-purposed to fit the baseball biography of the new player.

I caught a real break on the back of Ron Negray's card. The center panel of the cartoon there was perfect for Lasorda; I only had to change the number of years that Lasorda had toiled in the Brooklyn farm system. The right-hand cartoon on my Lasorda back was modified from Billy Pierce's 1956 Topps, and the left-end cartoon was taken from Karl Spooner's card.

The end product is a custom card of Tommy Lasorda in an "alien" uniform that I'm happy to include in my opus of custom card work. 

Monday, February 6, 2012

How Smith became "Phenomenal"

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.

One of the great nicknames from the Old Judge era of baseball card issue was that of John F. “Phenomenal” Smith. (Today's baseball players are too cool or too professional to have nicknames.)

Smith earned the sobriquet in 1885 when he pitched a no-hit game for Newark (American Association) in which not a single Baltimore player got the ball out of the infield. In that Oct. 3 game he not only held the Orioles hitless, but struck out 16. Only two runners reached base, one on a walk and one on a dropped third strike – and Smith picked both of them off first base.

A few months later, pitching winter ball in California in the days before there was official league ball on the Coast, Smith hurled another no-hitter, winning a 5-0 game for the San Francisco Chronicles against the S.F. Knickerbokers.

Smith had been born, with the name John Francis Gammon, in Manayunk, Pa. (now a part of Philadelphia) on Dec. 12, 1864. At the age of 19 he joined Baltimore, then a National Association team, in 1883. He was a little lefthander, only 5'6" tall and 161 lbs. The following year, in the American Association, he pitched for the Philadelphia Athletics and Pittsburgh Alleghenies.

In 1885, besides pitching for Newark, he had been with an independent team at Allentown, Pa., and the American Association’s Brooklyn club. It has been reported that the not-yet-20 Smith's brash demeanor and braggadocio -- despite having to that point a 0-2 major league record -- so irritated his Brooklyn Grays teammates that on June 17, 1885, they intentionally misplayed behind him, committing 14 errors, allowing the visiting St. Louis Browns to win 18-5. Despite the fact that Brooklyn was already in 7th place in the league, 15 games behind, management slapped several of the offending players with large fines. For the sake of team unity, Smith was released.

He spent the 1886 season with Detroit in the National League, for whom he notched his first major league victory, matching it with a loss.

In 1887, Smith pitched in 58 games for the Orioles. He won 25 -- but lost 30. The following season he worked for the Athletics and the Orioles. He remained with the Athletics for most of 1889, also playing briefly with Hartford of the Atlantic Association. He stayed in Philadelphia with the National League Phillies, for most of 1890-91, pitching three games for Pittsburgh in 1890. 

He left the majors for good when he joined Milwaukee in the Western Association in 1891. He played in Green Bay (Wisconsin-Michigan League in 1892) and Reading (Pennsylvania State League) in 1893.

He moved to the outfield (except for an occasional ceremonial start in later years) and began managing in the minors in 1894. He won the Pennsylvania State League second half pennant with Pottsville in 1894. He spent 1895 with Pottsville and, briefly, Millville (South New Jersey League). He managed in the New England League with Pawtucket (the team was nicknamed the Phenoms in his honor) in 1896-97 (he hit .405 in 89 games in 1896), Fall River, Newark and Hartford in 1898 and Portland in 1899, where he won the NEL pennant.

In 1900 he captured the Virginia League flag with Norfolk, also called the Phenoms. He was back in the NEL from 1901-04, piloting Manchester to the pennant in 1902, the same year he led the league in batting with a .369 average at the age of 37.

While with Portland in 1899, Smith faced a young Taunton pitcher named Christy Mathewson. Though Mathewson's record was 2-13 for Taunton, Smith recognized the 18-year-old's potential. That fall, when Matty traveled with his Bucknell football team to play a game at Penn, Smith lured him away from Taunton with a $10 per month raise (to $90) to join his team at Norfolk.

With Norfolk, Mathewson won 18 games while losing only two, and in July that season, began his major league career with the New York Giants. 

Smith ended his professional baseball career after the 1904 season, and joined the Manchester, N.H., police department, from which he retired in 1932. In that period he coached the St. Anselm’s basketball team off and on.

Smith died in Manchester on April 3, 1952 at the age of 87. He was survived by five sons and seven daughters.

Phenomenal, indeed.

Smith appeared on a number of cards in the Old Judge series between 1887-1890.