Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Now pitching for Scranton, Bob Smith. Which one? The lefty. Which one?

Robert W. Smith made his baseball
card debut in 1958 Topps.
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.

If card-collecting kids had a bit of trouble keeping straight their Bob Smith cards in 1958, imagine how fans, scorekeepers and statisticians of the Scranton Red Sox felt in 1951, when, for a time, the team had two left-handed pitchers named Bob Smith on the team.

Robert Gilchrist Smith, then 20 years old, came to Scranton, a Class A Eastern League affiliate of the Boston Red Sox at the beginning of the 1951 season. He had signed with Boston in 1948 and worked his way up the minor league ladder, to a 13-5 season in 1950 at Class C Oneonta.

He stuck around at Scranton only long enough to get into four games. With an 0-1 record and 7.20 ERA, he was dropped down to Class B Roanoke.

Robert Walkup Smith, age 23, had been signed by Boston out of the University of Missouri - Columbia. Scranton was his first stop in professional baseball. He played the entire year with Scranton, winning 13 and losing eight, with an ERA of 3.30.

Bob Gilchrist Smith has refused to
autograph this card, saying the picture
is that of Bobby Gene Smith, who never
played for the Pirates.
Both Scranton Smiths eventually made the major leagues. 

Robert G. debuted with the Boston Red Sox in 1955. Then bounced up and down between the majors and minors through 1959. He was with the Cardinals and Pirates in 1957, with Pittsburgh again in 1958, and with the Pirates and Tigers in 1959.

Used principally in relief, R.G. Smith had a major league career record of 4-9 with a 4.09 ERA.

He pitched in the minors through the 1964 season, compiling an 88-84 record and 4.03 ERA.

Robert W. Smith came up with the Red Sox in 1958. He was with the Cubs and Indians in 1959. He was also used mainly in relief. His major league record was 4-4 with a 4.75 ERA.

He pitched in the minor leagues every year between 1951-63, with a lifetime record of 94-92 and an ERA of 3.68.

Besides the coincidence of their 1951 time with Scranton, the two Bob Smiths, though they looked nothing alike, shared a general physique. "G" was 6'1", 190 lbs. "W" was 6' 185 lbs. 

Topps got the photo right on the 1959 Bob G. Smith card, but used a cartoon intended for Bobby Gene Smith, Cardinals outfielder.
They also shared a general ineptitude with the bat. As major leaguers, Bob G. hit .069, Bob W., .080. Each played in 13 minor league seasons. Bob G. batted about .103, Bob W., about .110.

Both Smiths ostensibly made their rookie card appearance in the 1958 Topps set, Bob G. as card #226. Bob W. was card #445. 

That was Bob W's only mainstream baseball card, though he does appear in the scarce 1961 Bee Hive Starch team set of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

However, according to Bob W. Smith, who has refused to autograph that 1958 Topps card, the photo is not of him, but rather Bobby Gene Smith, who bears a strong facial resemblance to Robert Gilchrist Smith.

Bob G's actual rookie card, and his only mainstream baseball card, is in the 1959 Topps set, as a Pirate. To make matters more muddled, it appears that Topps mixed up Bob G. Smith and Bobby Gene Smith in the cartoon on the back of the 1959 Topps card, which refers to the player as an outfielder. The same cartoon is used correctly on Bobby Gene Smith's 1959 Topps card #162.

I can't really blame Topps for the error, though, as pitcher Bob G. Smith was a teammate of Bobby Gene Smith on the St. Louis Cardinals from mid-April through mid-May, 1957. The Cards had drafted the left-handed pitcher from the Red Sox in December, 1956, then sold him to Pittsburgh on May 14, 1958.

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