Tuesday, August 21, 2012

"Suitcase" Seeds' power surge

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.

Because of its proximity to New York City, Newark, N.J. has had an up-and-down history in professional baseball. The city’s teams generally operated in the upper levels of the minor league classification system between 1884-1949, when the city last had a team in Organized Baseball. For one season, Newark even fielded a major league team, in the 1915 Federal League.

What must surely be the greatest two-game performance by any Newark player was recorded May 6-7, 1938, when the International League-leading Bears were playing the Bisons in Buffalo.

In six trips to the plate on Friday, May 6, center fielder “Suitcase” Bob Seeds hit four home runs and a pair of singles. The homers came in four consecutive at-bats in the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh innings; the bingles were both hit in the eighth inning as Newark beat Buffalo 22-9. He had 12 RBIs on the day. One of his home runs came with the bases loaded, there was one man on for each of his other three homers and he drove in one run on each of his singles.

He became the fifth IL player to hit four home runs in a game. At that point in major league history, four players had tied for that record. His 12 RBIs set a new league record. The major league record for RBIs in a game was 12 (Jim Bottomley, 1924). Seeds’ 18 total bases and six hits in a game also tied International League marks.

The next day, Seeds homered in his first two trips to the plate, in the first and third innings, to start his day. He walked in the fifth and then hit another home run in the sixth inning. The Bisons finally got him out when he struck out in the ninth inning. Newark won again that day, 14-8.

His two-day power surge had netted him 30 bases and 17 RBIs.

Due to rainouts and cold weather, Newark didn’t play again until May 11; Seeds was 2-for-5 that day, with a triple.

Seeds had never previously stood out as a power hitter. In his previous pro seasons, he had averaged little more than six home runs per season.

In 59 games with Newark in 1938, he had 28 home runs and 95 RBIs. There’s no telling how many International League records he might have broken if he had remained with Newark all season.

However, despite his early-season hitting heroics, the parent N.Y. Yankees didn’t feel he could make the grade in their outfield. (In 1936 the Yankees had acquired Seeds in a trade with Montreal on Aug. 22. He spent the rest of the season in New York. In 13 games he batted .262 and in only 42 at-bats, had hit four home runs.) On June 24, the Yankees sold him to the N.Y. Giants for $40,000. He finished the 1938 season for the Giants batting .291 with nine home runs.

As noted on the back of his 1939 and 1940 Play Ball baseball cards, Bob Seeds had another claim to baseball fame . . . he was the only major leaguer to ever own a minor league ballclub while he played in the big leagues.

In 1939, after 10 years out of Organized Baseball, the Amarillo Gold Sox joined the Class C West Texas-New Mexico League. Bob Seeds was the owner and team president, his wife was the business manager.

Considered one of the finest athletes ever to come out of West Texas, Seeds had played pro ball at Amarillo in 1928, when the team was in the Class A Western League.

Seeds’ big league career (1930-32, 1934 Cleveland, 1932 White Sox, 1933-34 Red Sox, 1936 Yankees, 1938-40 Giants) ended after the 1940 season. He played the next four seasons in the high minors with Baltimore (1941-42), Indianapolis (1942) and Little Rock (1943-44).

After a year out of OB, he managed and played for his Amarillo Gold Sox team in 1946, batting .302 with one home run in 32 games.

Contemporary with his ownership of the Gold Sox, Seeds owned a hardware and sporting goods store in Amarillo, and later operated a large hog farm. He died in 1993.

Because he was a limited-use player for most of his major league career, Bob Seeds didn’t appear on many baseball cards. His two most mainstream issues are 1939 and 1940 Play Ball.

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