Monday, April 30, 2012

Who bought $25 pens in 1965?

Apropos of nothing . . .

I was paging through a 1965 issue of National Geographic a while back and saw an ad for a high-end Parker fountain pen.

Crafted in "solid sterling silver" with 14K gold point (probably plated, rather than solid), the pen was priced at $25.

I was struck by how much money that pen cost in 1965. A year later, when I got my first job at McDonald's, I was paid $1.10 an hour. A Parker 75 pen would have represented 22-3/4 hours of my labor. A Bic ballpoint was probably 19 cents.

According to an inflation calculator on the internet, those 25 1965 dollars would be the equivalent of $171 today. Does anybody pay $171 for a pen today? I'm sure some people do, but they probably read The Robb Report rather than Nat Geo.

Those people who did buy Parker 75s, or receive one as a gift, in 1965 had a pen that has held its value surprisingly well. According to recent sales of the pen on eBay, New In Box, or nearly new sterling Parker 75s sell for $75-200.

A new Bic ballpoint, or at least its generic equivalent, sells for about the same 19 cents as in 1965.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Expanding Jim Taylor's card legacy

Having grown up 60 miles south of Green Bay during the Packers glory years of the 1960s, I worshiped St. Vincent's Holy Trio of Starr, Hornung and Taylor. 

Naturally, as football card collectors we felt gyped when the first two (1958 and 1960) Jim Taylor cards forthcoming from Topps pictured James G. Taylor, a Chicago Cardinals player, rather than Packers fullback James C. Taylor. The "real" Jim Taylor rookie cards didn't arrive until 1961, in both Topps and Fleer (and Fleer screwed up its Packers cards that year by using a weird mirror-image outline of Wisconsin on the team logo). 

Jim Brown aside, Taylor was greatest fullback in an era when that was an integral part of most NFL offenses. 

Taylor was a burr-headed powerhouse, who epitomized Lombardi's "Run to Daylight" philosophy. 

He had been the Packers second-round pick in the 1958 NFL draft; Green Bay had taken Michigan State linebacker. Picked #15  overall, the All-American from LSU was the second running back taken in '58, behind John David Crow, whom the Cardinals had picked #2. 

Taylor led the NFL in rushing touchdowns in both 1961 (15) and 1962 (19). In 1962 he also led in rushing yards and points scored, while averaging 105.3 yards per game on the ground. He was MVP that season. Between 1960-66, Taylor was 1st or 2nd Team All-Pro six times, and a Pro Bowl selection five times.

With a fist full of NFL Championship rings and coming off the Packers' win in the first NFL-AFL Championship game, Taylor became a free agent after the 1966 season.

He signed for 1967 with the expansion New Orleans Saints, returning to Louisiana where he had played high school and college ball at Baton Rouge. 

Taylor had been looking for a four-year $400,000 contract to return to the Packers, but accepted a reported $60,000 from the Saints. The signing of favorite son Taylor was such a big deal on the bayou that it was done in the office of Governor John McKeithen.

In 1967, Topps and Philadelphia Gum split the football card world. Topps had the AFL, Philadelphia had the NFL. The '67P cards were, as usual, lackluster in design, distinguished only by their piss-yellow border. For lack of time, all of the players in Philadelphia's team set of New Orleans Saints were pictured in the uniforms of their former teams. Because he had not signed until July 6, Taylor did not appear in the 1967 Philadelphia set at all. Taylor's former teammate, Paul Hornung, who also signed with the Saints for 1967, does appear in the Philadelphia set (in a Packers uniform), but he never played for New Orleans. Plagued by a neck injury, he retired after the 1966 season. 

When he did appear in the company's 1968 set, he was still pictured in a Green Bay uniform. Taylor, however, did not play with the Saints in 1968. He had led the team in rushing with 390 yards in 1967, but when asked to perform on special teams in the pre-season in 1968, he retired.

I pulled together a pair of Jim Taylor custom cards recently. One supplies the "missing" 1967 Philadelphia card, while the other is an addition to my 1955 Topps All-American style update set.

Friday, April 27, 2012

'74T Braves "variation" is bolt from blue

I'm retired from work on the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards, and even if I wasn't, I don't think this card would have made the cut into "official variation" status. However, since there are a lot of collectors who chase this type of thing, and since one of their number made the effort to alert me to it some two years ago, I think it's worth sharing.

Topps specialist Al Richter of Texas is the collector who brought this visually interesting printing anomaly to my attention. I've had the scans sitting in one of my folders for a couple of years now. Al was always generous in sharing the errors, variations and misprints he discovered, even though he knew that most of them would never be listed in the "big book."

What it is, is a lightning bolt-looking defect that appears in the sky at the top-right of the 1974 Atlanta Braves team photo card, #483.

I never knew enough or have forgotten what little I knew about four-color card printing in the mid-1970s, so I can't hazard a guess as to the physical cause of the misprint. It seems to me the card started without the bolt, then developed the defect later on.

A review of 50 1974 Braves team cards for sale on eBay on a recent day showed that only seven of the cards (14%) have the lightning bolt effect. As might be expected in a misprint like this, some of the cards show a greater or lesser severity of the image.

If you're so inclined, and if you hurry, I'm sure you can pick one of the lightning bolt cards up for the price of a common.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

'52 Topps-style custom of Rogers Hornsby

In the past year or so while reading microfilm of 1951-52 The Sporting News, I was regularly exposed to contemporary accounts and historical perspective about Rogers Hornsby.

I learned enough about the man to ascertain that I would have loved to have had dinner with him.

Hornsby was arguably the best right-handed hitter in baseball history, but he was by many accounts one of the worst managers.

I won't try to recap Hornsby's career in this space; you can read all about him elsewhere on the internet and there are at least a couple of published biographies of him.

Among the highlights I gleaned from dozens of TSN articles were:

His given name was his mother's surname.

As an infielder, he was only a mediocre fielder.

He was unofficially black-listed from Organized Baseball for most of the 1940s by Commissioners K.M. Landis and Happy Chandler because he was an repentant gambler on horse races, openly consorting with bookies.

On Dec. 22, 1949, his 31-year-old son, Rogers Hornsby Jr., was killed in the crash of a USAF B50 bomber in Georgia. Lt. Hornsby was the plane's navigator.

In 1953, his personal secretary and girl friend, divorcee Bernadette Harris, jumped to her death from he third floor apartment in Chicago. The 55-year-old was said to have been despondent over real or imagined physical ailments. Her will left everything to Hornsby, including a $29,000 bank account that had accumulated over two years' time, and $25,000 in cash in a safe deposit box. Harris had assisted Hornsby with his financial affairs for several years.

Other than a few pet projects, he was openly contemptuous of modern ballplayers and was either unwilling or unable to impart to them any of his hitting acumen. Despite that he ran a camp for aspiring pro ballplayers and was employed for years by a Chicago newspaper to conduct kids' clinics.

He didn't smoke, drink, go to movies or read, the latter two because he believed those activities would be harmful to his batting eye.

When Bill Veeck fired him as St. Louis Browns manager after only 51 games, most of the roster chipped in for a $50 silver loving cup that they presented to Veeck, thanking him for freeing them from Hornsby's rule. The 24" trophy was inscribed, "To Bill Veeck, for the greatest play since the Emancipation Proclamation."

When asked why he didn't play golf like many other ballplayers, he said words to the effect, "When I hit a ball, I like somebody else to chase it."

For those reasons, and more, I decided that a custom card of Hornsby marking his days as a major league manager in the early 1950s was warranted. Discovery of some sharp black-and-white spring training photos of Hornsby in a Browns' uniform sealed the deal.

I elected to use the 1952 Topps format, putting his portrait on the background that Topps had used for card #93, Al Sima. I found it interesting that Hornsby used a variety of distinctive letter formations and embellishments with his autograph over the years; I used a mid-Fifties exemplar that best fit the Topps signature box.

I wouldn't have been averse to creating a 1953 Topps-style custom of Hornsby as manager of the Cincinnati Reds, but there is a decided lack of available photos of him in a Reds uniform that would be suitable for such a project.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Dick Marlowe's belated rookie card

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 entry, I told you about Roy Hawes' rookie card in the 1955 Bowman set; a card that was issued four years after his only cup of coffee in the major leagues.

This time, we have a similar story . . . about Dick Marlowe's card in the 1955 Bowman set. Like Hawes, Marlowe had made his major league debut in 1951. Unlike Hawes, he had played some or all of each season in the bigs from 1951-56.

To be technically factual, Marlowe also had a 1953 baseball card. Because it was the regionally issued Glendale hot dogs Tigers team set, however, it is not, by most accepted hobby definitions, a "rookie card." And, it is so scarce that even if you ever found one, it would probably have a price tag too daunting for many collectors (at least in comparison to his '55B).

Marlowe's claim to baseball fame is that in 1952 he pitched a perfect game in the high minors.

After having signed with the Detroit Tigers as a 19-year-old in 1948, the long (6'2"), lank (165 lbs.) right-hander had enjoyed a couple of decent seasons in Class A ball, 1948-49, winning 27 and losing 16.

In the stiffer competition of Class AAA ball with Toledo in the American Association, Marlowe was 17-20 in 1950-51.

The Tigers shifted him to the team's other AAA club, Buffalo in the International League, for 1952. Towards the end of a 10-10 season, lightning struck for Marlowe.

Pitching in Baltimore on Friday night, Aug. 15, Marlowe through a perfect game to beat the Orioles 2-0. Marlowe accomplished the gem on just 84 pitches. It was only the second perfect game in IL history; the next perfect-o in the league wouldn't come for another 48 years, until Tomo Okha in 2000. At that point in baseball history, only six perfect games had been thrown in the major leagues.

1953 Glendale Meats
Back in Buffalo on Aug. 26, the Bisons and fans had a "night" for Marlowe, showering him with gifts. He was presented with a television, a $100 savings bond, a set of golf clubs, an electric clock, cigars, a travel kit and a virtual wardrobe of shirts, slacks, ties and hats -- and a live 31-pound white turkey. His wife was presented with an imported hand bag. Teammate Joe Erautt, who had caught Marlowe's perfect game, was given a fishing rod and reel.

Perhaps the best gift Marlowe received was another September call-up to Detroit.

In 1951, Marlowe had made his major league debut on Sept. 19, when he pitched the final inning of an 8-1 loss at Philadelphia.

He got his first major league start on a week later at St. Louis, but was knocked out of the box in the first inning, giving up six runs on five hits and two walks to take the loss 7-1.

In September on 1952, Marlowe worked in four games, with an undistinguished 0-2 record.

Despite that, he remained on the Detroit staff for the 1953-54 seasons, with an 11-11 record.

Marlowe was returned to Buffalo to begin the 1955 season. He had a 9-10 record and 3.34 ERA. That earned him another September call-up with Detroit. He again appeared in four games, garnering a complete-game win at home against the A's for a 1-0 record (with a save) and an ERA of 1.80.

Marlowe's season began with Detroit in 1954, but after going 1-1 in seven games, he was sent back down in mid-May. Despite being only 1-5 with a 5.58 ERA for Charleston of the American Association, Marlowe was claimed off waivers by the Chicago White Sox on Sept. 17.

He pitched only a single inning for the White Sox, relieving in a 7-6 loss. He gave up two hits, including a home run and a triple, along with a walk.

Marlowe end his pro career in the Pacific Coast League in 1957, going 1-2 with Vancouver and 0-6 with Portland.

He died in 1968 at the age of only 39.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Roy Hawes' belated rookie card

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 oddities among mid-1950s mainstream baseball cards was the 1955 Bowman card of  Roy Hawes.

Hawes' rookie card, you see, came nearly four years after the end of his major league career -- a career that comprised only three games.

Despite what the back of his Bowman card says, Hawes was born in Shiloh, Illinois, not Texas. 

He began playing pro ball at the age of 20 in the Class D Illinois State League. He spent four years in D ball, all as a first baseman. In 1950 with Vincennes in the Mississippi Ohio Valley League he hit .328 (sixth best in the league) with 13 home runs (fourth best). That earned him a promotion to Class B ball in 1951 at Sherman-Dennison in the Big State League. 

After hitting .311 with 17 home runs in Texas, he was sold to the Washington Senators, who were looking for a left-handed power hitter to back up Mickey Vernon at first base.

Hawes made his major league debut in the first game of a Sept. 23 doubleheader at Philadelphia. 

The Senators were already behind 6-0 in the top of the third when Hawes went in as a pinch-hitter for pitcher Connie Marrero. After taking the first pitch and missing the second, Hawes hit a single up the middle off a Bob Hooper knuckleball for his only major league career hit. He was forced out at second on a double play and the Senators lost 12-4.

Hawes was called upon in the second game as a pinch-hitter for Tom Ferrick. He lined out to pitcher Carl Scheib in the top of the ninth to end the game in an 8-3 Senators' loss. 

His only major league start came on the last game of the season, the second game of a doubleheader in Washington on Sept. 30, when he again faced Bob Hooper. Hawes went 0-for-4 as the Senators ended their season with a 4-3 loss to finish seventh in the American League, 36 games behind the Yankees. It was end of Hawes' time in the big leagues.

For 1952, the Senators sent Hawes to their Class AA Southern Association team at Chattanooga to convert him to an outfielder. He spent the 1952-55 seasons at Chattanooga, batting around .270 and averaging about 17 home runs a season.

He hung on for five more years playing AA and AAA ball in the Senators, Phiilies, Tigers, Braves and Dodgers systems. Someone was always willing to take a chance on a big (6'2") left-handed hitting outfielder. His batting average was usually closer to .200 than .250, and he never hit more than nine home runs until he returned to Chattanooga in 1958.

Back with the Lookouts in 1959-60, Hawes ended his pro playing days on a high note. He batted .265 with 31 home runs before retiring at the age of 33.

Throughout his playing days around the minors, Hawes' name would occasionally pop up in the pages of The Sporting News

In 1952, for instance, the paper reported that Hawes had been slightly injured in a robbery attempt on May 23. The Lookouts first baseman had been parked in the street in front of his girlfriend's house after a date when a would-be bandit jerked open the car door, and slashed at Hawes with what the paper called, "a sharp instrument."

Hawes said he punched the robber in the face when he reached for his wallet and chased him down the street.

The ballplayer got nicked twice in the incident: Once when the assailant slashed at him, and the second time when Lookouts manager Cal Ermer fined him for being out past 1 a.m. following a night game. 

The next night Hawes hit two doubles and three RBIs in a 7-3 win over New Orleans.

Later that season Hawes was written up in TSN on the occasion of his marriage. 

On the afternoon of Aug. 9, Hawes married Jeanie Baxter (one would hope the same girl whose house he had been in front of at 1 a.m. two months earlier) in her hometown of Ringgold, Ga. (only about 15 miles south of the ballpark). 

Hawes returned to Chattanooga later that day for a nighttime doubleheader against New Orleans. In the first game he hit a 10th inning, three-run home run to win 4-2.  Between games the crowd took up a collection for the newlyweds and presented them with around $200, while local merchants phoned in offers of wedding presents. The home run was only Hawes' second hit in a 33 at-bat slump. He went hitless in the second game.

While Hawes has the illustrated 1955 Bowman high-number to show for his three-game major league career, his 14 seasons in the minors apparently yielded no other cards.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

A Luke Easter collectible that never got made

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.

Shortly after the end of the 1952 World Series, slugging Cleveland Indians first baseman Luke Easter announced that he had gone into the sausage business with his brother-in-law, Raymond Cash.

After sampling some of Cash's breakfast sausage, Luke put up $11,000 to buy a truck and kitchen equipment and the pair was on its way to creating Ray Sausage Co., a company that remains in business to this day.

In announcing his new enterprise, Easter said that his picture was going to be placed on the 1 lb. packages of sausages. That, apparently, never came to pass. That's too bad because, for my money, there can never be enough Luke Easter collectibles.

The photograph that accompanies this post is dated, March, 1953. It shows Easter in chef's garb during spring training serving his sausage to teammates Ted Wilks (left) and Barney McCosky.

Within months, Ray's Sausage was selling 2,300 pounds of sausage a day. For the 1953 season, Easter obtained a concessions agreement to sell his product at Cleveland's Municipal Stadium. In late 1953, Easter created another venue for his company's sausage when he opened a restaurant in Cleveland's Hotel Majestic building.

The company became well-known for its hot and extra-hot sausage, head cheese and "souse," which is vinegar-infused head cheese.

Hobbled by injuries and failing eyesight, Easter passed out of the major leagues in 1954, but played in the high minors for another decade. 

When he landed in Buffalo in 1956, Easter created another sausage company, the namesake Luke Easter Sausage Co. My less-than-exhaustive googling failed to disclose if or when Easter's participation in Ray's Sausage ended, or the ultimate fate of the Luke Easter Sausage Co.

It was widely reported that after joining the Rochester Red Wings in 1959, Easter presented five pounds of his sausage to teammates who hit a home run.

The story of Ray's Sausage Company took a macabre turn in 2009. 

The company had been located since its founding at the corner of East 123rd St. and Imperial Ave. in Cleveland. Next door was the home of Anthony Sowell . . . the now infamous "Cleveland Strangler." 

Beginning around 2007, Sowell is believed to have raped and murdered 11 women, concealing or burying their bodies in his house and yard. 

When the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood where Sowell's home and Ray's Sausage Co. were located began to be plagued by a persistent foul smell, some neighbors attributed the stench to the sausage factory on the corner. The meat company spent 10s of thousands of dollars in an attempt to find and eliminate the rotten smell, but it persisted until Sowell's sordid story was revealed and the bodies removed.

Thus far, Ray's Sausage, now operated by the original Ray Cash's children, son Ray, Jr., and daughter Renee, has survived the unfortunate association, largely due to loyalty by three generations of customers accustomed to finding the product in inner-city grocery stores and restaurants in the Rust Belt.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The not-so-serious side of custom cards

With the debut of the new Three Stooges movie, I thought I'd resurrect this 2009 posting about the custom card I created with the original trio.

Most of the 120 or so 1955 Topps-style All-American football cards that I have created over the past 6+ years have been serious efforts to make "cards that never were" in the spirit of the originals -- to honor the college football careers of players past and present.

Occasionally, though, I have colored outside the lines by making a card just for the heck of it. My Three Stooges tribute card is one of the earlier examples in that vein.

I got the idea when I stumbled across a poster of a scene from the Stooges' film, Three Little Pigskins. That poster formed the central image for my card, as shown here (I had to colorize the image).

To get the back story for my back story, I bought a used VHS tape of the movie and took notes while I watched. I believe the information about the Layola players and the cast injuries came from a biography of one or all of the Stooges.
I never did learn why the filmmakers decided to use the name Boulder Dam for the fictional college. It was probably a play on words with Boulder Dam being somewhat akin to Notre Dame. Also, the movie was shot in 1934, when the construction of Boulder Dam (now called Hoover Dam) near Las Vegas was in the news.
At a loss to create a logo for the fictional college, I stole from the Colorado Rockies' logo and substituted a football for the baseball. Not my best work.
The back of the card mentions injuries that occurred during filming. One of the broken bones was Curly's leg, although it didn't happen in a football scene, but rather when he fell down a dumb-waiter. Larry was also injured when a mis-timed punch knocked out a tooth.
Another little bit of trivia related to the movie: Lucille Ball made her only appearance in a Three Stooges movie . . . as a blonde.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Frank Saucier's brief but memorable career now commemoarted on a custom card

Frank Saucier had one of professional baseball’s most unusual careers. He was a true minor league superstar who could not carry that success into the major leagues and who is best remembered for the time he was lifted for a pinch-hitter.

His career was never marked with a baseball card issue. After reading about him in contemporary Sporting News accounts, I decided to create a custom card for him.

For the 1950 season, The Sporting News selected Frank Saucier, an outfielder in the St. Louis Browns system, as its Minor League Player of the Year.

Saucier’s selection was based on his .343 batting average with the San Antonio Missions, the Browns’ Class AA team in the Texas League. Saucier’s mark was tops in the circuit.

The accompanying photo in the Jan. 3, 1951, issue was bracketed with the headline, “Mr. Slug,” and the tagline “Missions’ Mighty Mauler”.

TSN opined that the perennially cash-strapped owners of the Browns, Bill and Charley DeWitt, could “put this 18-karat gold prospect on the auction block and come away with a tidy sum. Although he has never played in a major league game,” the paper continued, “Saucier probably would bring as much in the open market as any player in the organization.”

In writing the player profile of the POY, San Antonio sports writer Dick Peebles said, “If the Browns can get by for a couple of years and not part with Saucier, they may come up with the greatest individual drawing card they’ve had since George Sisler.”

Peebles described the 23-year-old Saucier as a “tall, handsome lad with the boyish face and crew haircut.” He said the kid had the attention of “everyone, all major league clubs included,” because of his “amazing ability to sock a baseball hard, often and to distant places.”

The Browns had signed Saucier in 1948 after he graduated with an engineering degree from tiny Westminster College in Fulton, Mo. As a junior, Saucier had hit .519, a record in the Missouri College Athletic Union. The college’s baseball field is named for him.

He broke into pro ball with Belleville in the Class D Illinois State League as a catcher. He batted .357 that season.

He jumped to Class B ball with Wichita Falls for 1949. There he led the Big State League – and all of Organized Baseball – with a .446 average, winning the Hillerich & Bradsby Silver Bat award. That batting mark was 60 points higher than the runner-up.

His 1949 performance also earned him a trip to spring training with the Baltimore Orioles in 1950. The O’s weren’t a major league team then, they played in the Class AAA International League. Because the Orioles were well-stocked behind the plate, they sent saucier to San Antonio.

Missions’ manager, former Browns middle infielder Don Heffner, was also good on catchers, but he needed a left fielder, so he began the process of converting Saucier to an outfielder.

Learning the ropes as a flychaser, as Peebles put it, Saucier’s batting suffered and he went hitless in his first 10 trips to the plate. He quickly overcame that slump, however, and by mid-season was belting ‘em to the tune of a .375 average.

A couple of nagging injuries (he knocked himself unconscious chasing a line drive into an outfield fence, injuring his shoulder) caused his batting average to drift down to .340, as well as to miss the Texas League All-Star Game, to which he had been an overwhelming choice for left fielder.

He finished the regular season with 151 hits, including 23 doubles, 12 triples (three of them successively in one game) and nine home runs.

In winning the Texas League playoffs and the subsequent Dixie Series against Nashville, champions of the Southern Association, Saucier hit .408 in 17 games.

Peebles compared Saucier physically to Ted Williams. Slightly over six feet tall, and weighing 175 pounds, Saucier swung an unusually light bat, generating power to all fields with a pair of strong wrists.

In the off-seasons, Saucier was employed by the George F. Martin Oil Co., Tulsa, where he was being groomed for an executive position. Despite his success on the ballfield, Saucier was quoted as saying that he wasn’t sure he wanted to make a career of playing baseball.

Saucier was married during an off day in the Dixie Series in 1950, and honeymooned in Venezuela, where he played winter ball.

The Browns claimed his contract for 1951, intending to bring him to spring training, where St. Louis manager Zack Taylor would convert him to a first baseman.

Holding out for a significant cash bonus, Saucier refused to report to the Browns and on April 17, was put on the suspended player list for failure to report and sign a contract. Unlike many ballplayers in that era, Saucier had options.

An oil well in which he had an interest came in a gusher and Saucier was doing well working the oil fields around Okmulgee, Okla. He kept his hand in baseball by helping coach the local American Legion team.

One of the first things on Bill Veeck’s things-to-do list when he acquired control of the St. Louis Browns midway through the 1951 season was to come to terms with erstwhile minor league batting champion and then-current Oklahoma oilman Frank Saucier.

In the days just prior to and just after his assuming ownership of the cellar-dwelling and attendance-challenged Brownies on July 5, Veeck had circulated through the grandstand and bleachers at Sportsman’s Park to seek fan input on what they wanted from the team.

Repeatedly he was asked about the status of Saucier. Veeck said at least half the fans he spoke with asked what he was going to do about the holdout.

Veeck got on the phone on the night of July 4 and at 1:30 a.m., finally tracked Saucier down at the home of his parents in Washington, Mo. Veeck urged Saucier to hop into a car with his wife and come to St. Louis.

When Saucier demurred, Veeck told him to sit tight and he (Veeck) would be right out. He hired a limousine and driver and an hour later he was sitting in the Saucier’s living room. An hour after that he had persuaded Saucier to agree to terms. By 4:30 a.m., Veeck was on his way back to St. Louis where later that day he dotted all the i’s and crossed all the t’s to formalize transfer of the team.

Veeck had recognized that getting Saucier into a Browns’ uniform would energize the fan base and help him improve on the team’s miserable gate showing of just 108,000 paid attendance at the all-star break.

“I like Saucier’s attitude,” Veeck was quoted, “He likes to play ball, has a lot of confidence in himself but is quite reserved in discussing his own ability. I’ve watched him work out and I like him more every time I see him swing that bat.”

Bringing Saucier into the fold might not have guaranteed that the Browns could improve on their 23.5 game deficit in the American League but it would make the turnstiles hum.

It was the same motivation Veeck had in his stealth campaign to bring Satchel Paige back into the major leagues. Veeck had first brought Paige into Organized Baseball while he was owner of the Cleveland Indians in 1948. The ageless pitcher was instrumental in the Indians’ World’s Championship that season. After Veeck was forced to sell the team in his divorce settlement in 1949, Paige had returned to lucrative barnstorming, which baseball experts speculated had netted him $50,000 a year.

In 1951, Abe Saperstein, who owned both the Harlem Globetrotters and the Chicago American Giants of the Negro American League, had convinced Paige to forsake the road for a berth on his team. Veeck was almost certainly behind this tie-up as it gave him access to Paige’s services at a moment’s notice. It was no coincidence that when Veeck put together his ownership group for the purchase of the Browns, Saperstein was one of the team’s 16 stockholders.

Saucier made his major league debut against the Yankees on July 21, grounding out as a pinch-hitter. His first start came in left field the next day in the first game of a doubleheader. He grounded out twice, struck out and walked in four tips to the plate; he also made two errors in left field.

Veeck appeared nonplussed, “I’m positive Saucier will hit for us,” he said. “I saw him enough in the Texas League and he’ll hit plenty to all fields. And don’t forget, this is his spring training period,” Veeck alibied.

Just as often happens with phenoms in their first big league “spring training,” Saucier failed to live up to expectations. Whether it was because of the long holdout, the fact that his oil interests robbed him of focus and ambition to make a mark in the major leagues, or reported nagging injuries,  Saucier went down in flames.

For the rest of the season, Saucier was used mainly as a pinch-hitter and pinch-runner.

On Aug 7, he garnered his only major league hit, a pinch-hit double off the Indians’ Mike Garcia in a 5-1 Browns loss.

He got only his second start in the second game of the Aug. 19 doubleheader at Detroit. After opening the game in right field, he was due to lead off the bottom of the first when he was lifted for a pinch-hitter: Eddie Gaedel.

Frank Saucier was the unwitting fall guy in Veeck’s most famous stunt. In his book, Veeck, as in Wreck, the Browns owner said, “This is the only part of the gag I feel bad about. Frank was a great kid with great promise and all he is remembered for is being the guy the midget batted for.”

A week later he got is third and final start. His lifetime major league record stands at 18 games, with 14 at-bats. Besides his lone hit, he walked three times, one of them bringing in his only RBI and leading to his only big league run. He struck out four times and was hit by a pitch once.

Saucier’s baseball career came to an end in 1952 when he was called back into service for two years with the U.S. Navy during the Korean War. During World War II, Saucier had served nearly three years. At age 18 he had been one of the youngest officers ever commissioned by the Navy. He served on the U.S.S. Barnstable and was part of the Navy’s V-12 rocket program.

After the Korean War, Saucier returned to civilian life, first in the oil business, then as vice president of the Amarillo (Tex.) Savings and Loan Assn.

Publicly, Saucier took his role in the Gaedel debacle gracefully. Teammates, however, have since told baseball researchers that he was not happy with that legacy.

Frank Saucier’s baseball legacy did not include any card issues. My 1951 Bowman-style custom card is an attempt to rectify that oversight. If the background of the card looks familiar to vintage card collectors, it is because it was seen on teammate Ned Garver’s card in the ’51 Bowman set.

I wonder how Frank pronounced his patronym? In a 1950 article in TSN, the pronunciation was phonetically given as "saw-shay." In poking around a genealogy site, I discovered that different branches of the family pronounce it: a) so-sure, b) so-shay, and c) saw-see-yay. 


Monday, April 16, 2012

Brother broke up Doc Crandall's no-hitter

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.

Otis “Doc” Crandall was a pitcher for the New York Giants 1908-13, the St. Louis Terriers of the Federal League, 1914-15 and St. Louis Browns, 1916. A relief specialist for most of his time with the Giants, he also filled in around the infield when he wasn’t on the mound. He was a lifetime .285 hitter. His career pitching record was 102-62 with an excellent 2.92 ERA.

Following his big league days, he pitched for another 13 years in the minors, mostly for the Los Angeles Angels in the Pacific Coast League, where he had a record of 230-151, with an ERA of about 3.00.

In one game during the World War I-shortened 1918 season, Doc Crandall came within one out of  a no-hitter.

On April 7, 1918, Crandall was pitching for the Los Angeles Angels in the morning half of a Sunday doubleheader at the Vernon ballpark. Vernon, which fielded a Pacific Coast League team of its own from 1909-1925, was a suburb of Los Angeles. The Angels played their Sunday “home” games there because local blue laws prohibited the sale of alcoholic beverages on Sunday in the city of Los Angeles.

Facing the Salt Lake City Bees, Crandall was cruising into the ninth inning. After two “easy outs” in the ninth, Crandall’s brother Karl came to bat. Doc got him to swing at a couple of curve balls, then Karl let one go by for a ball.

Catcher Walter Boles signaled for another curve, but Doc shook him off and threw a fast ball. Karl singled between third and shortstop. It was the only hit in the Angels’ 14-0 win.

Both of the Crandall brothers appear on several of the Zeenuts baseball cards of the era. Since Karl never made it to the major leagues (he played 15 years in the minors), he doesn’t appear on any of the mainstream card issues of the day. He's shown here on a 1919 Zeenuts card, when he had moved on to the S.F. Seals

Otis can be found in many of the popular cigarette and candy card series of the 1909-16 era. Shown here is a 1914 Cracker Jack card, one of the few major sets to include Federal League players.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

1951 columnist scandalized by autograph fee

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.

My microfilm reader and 1886-1972 stash of The Sporting News and The Sporting Life films are a time machine.

I lose myself in reading about baseball as it was 40, 50, 60 or 125 years ago, while images of baseball cards from my youth – or even further back -- put a face to the names on the page.

Occasionally what I find on my screen brings a smile as I contrast the way things were with how they are.

For instance . . .

In his “from the RUHL BOOK” column, which was often a compilation of breezy bits and pieces (like a Larry King column)  from around baseball, TSN columnist Oscar Ruhl wrote in the Feb. 1, 1951, issue, “What’s this we hear about Walt Dropo receiving $200 for making an appearance in Maine and then selling autographed pictures of himself for 35 cents a copy after his talk?”

It’s hard to say whether Ruhl was scandalized more by the thought of the American League 1950 Rookie of the Year and All-Star “double dipping” by selling autographs at a paid appearance or the price of the signed photo. Recall that in 1951 you could buy seven wax packs of Bowman cards for 35 cents.

Today, seven packs of typical base-brand Topps card would cost . . . what . . . about $14? I suppose that's about what a Walt Dropo autograph at a card show would cost today. I see that you can buy Walt Dropo autographed photos all day on eBay for even less.

I'm not sure what all that says about inflation, sports memorabilia or Walt Dropo. 

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Bad day to be bear hunting

Few of those who follow this blog know that in the years before I became involved with creating and growing the sportscards division at Krause Publications, I was involved in the company's numismatic division.

I was originally hired on June 10, 1974, as an editorial assistant on the weekly coin collectors' newspaper Numismatic News. A couple of years later I was editor of the monthly newsstand glossy magazine Coins.

In those years my interests tended toward the field of U.S. paper money and related collectibles. I wrote many columns and feature stories on the subject, and eventually co-authored with Chet Krause the Standard Catalog of U.S. Paper Money. 

In 1979, Krause Publications bought a monthly newspaper titled Bank Note Reporter, covering all manner of paper currency and fiscal paper (checks, stocks, bonds, etc.). These were all areas in which Chet Krause had personally collected over the years. Recognizing my own interests in these areas, I'm convinced to this day that Chet bought BNR for me to play with. I was the paper's editor when it came into the company through the  early 1980s, when the growing baseball card periodicals took me away from the numismatic end of the business. 

The field of fiscal paper was interesting to me because these pieces of historical paper were often directly tied to famous persons, places, businesses, and events.

A second attraction were the vignettes which sometimes appeared on the currency, stocks, bonds or checks. Vignettes are the "pictures" that appear on such paper. Their heyday was the period roughly 1850-1900. They were generally accomplished via the medium of steel engraving. 

While the principal purpose of such vignettes was to deter counterfeiters, they also sometimes served the purpose of projecting an image favorable to the issuing authority, such as a patriotic theme or a depiction of an impressive headquarters building. 

One of my retirement projects has been working with Chet Krause to research the stocks, bonds and checks he accumulated over more than 50 years of collecting.

I want to share one item with you because it features a vignette I don't recall seeing before. 

The vignette shows an out-of-luck Indian hunter who pissed off a large bear by breaking off a lance into its shoulder. The hapless hunter is now in the unenviable position of having brought a knife to a teeth-and-claws fight. His horse appears to be similarly shit out'ta luck, with the wounded bear's mate or companion clamped onto its jugular.

The vignette was the work of the engravers at National Bank Note Co., New York, which created all manner of checks, stock and bond certificates, bank notes and even U.S. currency.

The piece bearing this dramatic image is a check on The Rocky Mountain National Bank of Central City, Colorado Territory, dated Nov. 29, 1875. The check was written by J.S. Reynolds, the bank's cashier, to attorney Morrell B. Messenger. It was paid at Kountze Brothers, Bankers in New York. There must have been some sort of connection between the banks, as Herman Kountze was president of the Colorado bank.

This check will be sold on eBay on April 20. I see that when he bought it, Chet paid $20 for it. It will be interesting to see what it sells for.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Jack Faszholz gave up pitching rubber for pulpit

As sometimes happens in my on-going custom card creation process, a new card jumps the line and takes precedence over some others that have been in process or on my to-do list for much longer.

Such was the case with this 1954 Topps-style custom card of Jack Faszholz. In perusing the 1951 issues of The Sporting News I saw a news short about Faszholz that struck my fancy. 

The article detailed "Jack Faszholz" night that was held at Rochester on Aug. 15, 1951. 

Then in his second season with the Red Wings, a Class AAA International League farm club of the St. Louis Cardinals, Faszholz was presented with a check for "clerical robes" by the Genessee Zone Lutheran Layman's :League. The article mentioned that in the off-season, Faszholz was studying for the ministry at Concordia Theological Seminary at St. Louis. 

Faszholz won his 10th game of the year that night, defeating Buffalo 2-1.

In checking his listing at, I found that Faszholz had a lengthy minor league career between 1944-1956, mostly at the top rung of the Cardinals system, but had enjoyed only the proverbial cup of coffee in the major leagues in 1953.

In poking around the internet, I found a wonderful write-up about Faszholz by Pat Doyle, at . Since he did such a good job detailing Pastor Faszholz's life and career, I won't rehash it here. 

I just wanted to share with you my Jack Faszholz custom card. I could have chosen to create a card in about any Topps or Bowman style between about 1952 and 1955, since he was on the St. Louis 40-man roster often in those years, but generally began and ended his seasons at Rochester. 

The '54 format was my choice because it has always been one of my favorite sets of the Fifties and -- and is often the case -- when I found pictures of Faszholz in Cardinals' livery on the internet, the image of a 1954-style card popped into my head.

Creating '54 customs is more challenging than many other years' cards because of Topps' use of cartoon biographical bits on the back. For me to make a '54 custom, I have to scour through original '54T cards in search of cartoons that I can re-purpose on my card. Because of the distinctive style of those cartoons, I don't think it would be possible to get artwork from any source other than the old cards themselves.

For my Faszholz card's back, I picked up cartoons from original Phil Rizzuto, Jerry Lane and Bob Trice cards.  

Be sure you click on Pat Doyle's write-up, and then I think you'll understand why I chose to create a custom card for Jack Faszholz. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Three Pirates rookie pitchers debuted in same game

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 April 28, 1951, game against the 7th place Cincinnati Reds, the Forbes Field faithful got a special treat when Pirates manager Billy Meyer gave three rookie pitchers their "major league baptisms" in the same game.

Con Dempsey, was a 6' 4" right-hander whom Pittsburgh had purchased from the San Francisco Seals (Pacific Coast League) at the end of the 1950 season for a reported $75,000. He had led the Coast League in strikeouts in 1948 and 1949. He started for the Bucs. 

In four innings of work he gave up seven hits, two walks and four earned runs, taking the 4-2 loss. He struck out two.

Bob Friend, who had won 14 games as Waco and Indianapolis the previous year,  after a collegiate career at Purdue, made his major league debut in relief in the fifth inning. In two innings he gave up two hits, but no runs.

Friend was followed to the mound by 18-year-old Bill Koski, who closed out the game by retiring all nine Reds batters in the seventh, eighth and ninth frames. Like Dempsey, Koski was a 6' 4" right-hander. He had made the jump to Pittsburgh from Mayfield in the Class D Kitty League in 1950, where he'd had an 8-2 record.

After his April 28 premiere, Koski got a start at New York on May 5, and took the 8-3 loss. He pitched in another dozen games in relief for the Pirates in 1951. In early June he was sent down to the team's Class AA farm at New Orleans. He returned for a couple of games in the September call-ups, but never again returned to the major leagues. In fact, after 1951 he never again pitched in an Organized Baseball league higher than Class B. He retired after 1957.

Koski appears on no baseball cards.

Dempsey pitched in only two other games in the major leagues. His career record was 0-2 with a 9.00 ERA. In mid-May, the Pirates sold him back to San Francisco for $25,000. There he went 7-7. He did not play in OB in 1952, and ended his career with Oakland (PCL) in 1953.

Surprisingly, Dempsey does appear on a baseball card. He's in the 1952 Topps set in a Philadelphia Phillies uniform . . . Actually, the picture on the card has been airbrushed to a Phillies' uniform. I saw the same picture of Dempsey in a May, 1951, issue of TSN and he was wearing the cap of the S.F. Seals. 

Dempsey was drafted by Philadelphia from San Francisco in the November, 1951, draft, but never pitched for the Phillies.

Friend went on to enjoy a successful 16-year major league career, pitching for Pittsburgh through 1965 and closing out his days with both the Yankees and Mets in 1966. Lifetime, he won 197 games, lost 230 and had an ERA of 3.58.

The four-time All-Star appeared on many baseball cards over the course of his career. He was on a Bowman card every year from 1952-55. After debuting on a Topps card in 1952, he didn't return to that company's issues until 1956, then was included every year through 1966, when he was shown with the Yankees. Friend also appeared on a couple of Kahn's Wieners card, Post cereal and 1960 Leaf.