Sunday, December 29, 2013

Jackie Jensen's finally on a 1960 "Topps" card

After putting in the work on a 1960 Topps-style card of Ted Williams (see my blog entry for Nov. 28, 2013), I decided to get some further use out of the template I'd made to create a Jackie Jensen card.

You can't fault Topps for not having issued a Jensen card in its 1960 set; spring training was nearly underway when Jensen announced he was retiring from the game.

I provided some details of that event in my posting of July 8, 2012, when I unveiled my 1955 Topps All American-style Jensen football card. I'll repeat it here . . . 

In 1960, Jensen shocked the baseball world by announcing his retirement. While the principal reason put forth was that he wanted to spend more time with his family, it appears that Jensen's fear of flying was the greater motivation. 

As airplanes had replaced trains for much big league travel, Jensen's phobia deepened to the point where he suffered panic attacks in the airport. The team paid for hypnotherapy, but it was ineffective.

Among the most vocal critics of Jensen's decision to retire was The Sporting News.

In the lead editorial in the Feb. 17, 1960, issue, headlined “JENSEN’S OBLIGATION TO GAME,” The paper said, “Jackie Jensen, the unhappy warrior of the Red Sox, finally has made good his long-standing threat to quit baseball. Even though the finality of his decision in refusing to sign with the Red Sox for the new season caught some Bostonians by surprise, none could say he hadn’t been warned. Jensen had threatened to pull up stakes for several years.
            “Throughout his major league career Jensen has moaned about his separations from his family. In announcing his retirement, he also mentioned his pressing business interests on the West Coast. Finally, there were reports from others that Jensen intensely disliked flying.
            “There are those who will say that these are good and sufficient reasons for quitting, and to an extent they are. It is difficult to question the stand of a father who wants to be with his family.
            “But isn’t there some obligation to baseball on Jensen’s part? Baseball has been good to him. It supplied him with a substantial bonus which enabled him to endow his family with earthly goods long before the average family acquires them. And baseball supplied the revenue which set up his business interests.
            “If Jackie Jensen were the only ball player separated from his family, with important connections and a fear of flying, his arguments would be completely sound. But there are others with the same problems who face up to them because they believe they owe baseball that much, because they believe that their example will be an inspiration to the youth of the country.
            “This country would be in bad shape if all of us quit whatever we were doing because it was inconvenient.”

 In his column, “Bob Addie’s Atoms” in the March 2 Sporting News, Addie wrote, “You could say that the decision of Jackie Jensen to quit baseball came as quite a surprise to the Boston Red Sox . . . In fact, the Red Sox’ brochure (Editor’s note: Probably the early edition of the team’s press guide), just off the press, confidently listed Jensen on the roster, and, of course, gave him quite a bit of space in the biographical sketch. . . . Ah, sadness.”

On March 20, at a Red Sox-Cubs exhibition game at Las Vegas, Red Sox broadcaster Curt Gowdy interviewed Jensen, who was on a four-day visit to the Red Sox camp with his wife . . . curious behavior for a newly retired player.

Jensen told Gowdy “there isn’t a chance” of his returning to the team. “I want the Boston fans and the Rex Sox organization to know that I hope I haven’t hurt them by retiring. It’s something I just had to do. If I’ve hurt any of the baseball people or the fans, I’m sorry. I certainly didn’t want to hurt anybody.”

In a contentious session with Boston baseball writers on May 21, team owner Tom Yawkey, perhaps sensing it wise not to burn any bridges, said the retirement of Jensen had “obviously” hurt the team.

 “Jensen had a decision to make,” Yawkey said, “It was a difficult one. I had hoped he would be able to make it in favor of baseball. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. His family was involved and I hope the decision he made to retire turns out best for Jackie.

 “There’s something more to life than baseball,” Yawkey continued. “A family comes first and I admire Jackie for making the decision he did, although the decision wasn’t good for our ball club, the American League and baseball in general.”

After a year's layoff, Jensen returned to the Red Sox for the 1961 season, but at the age of 34, he was not able to return to the level of his previous performance. With the American League having expanded to California and the resulting increase in air travel, Jensen made his retirement permanent following the '61 season.

Though Topps did include Jensen in its regular 1960 set, he was part of the 1960 Bazooka box-bottom set that year. It is my recollection that the Bazooka cards were prepared in those years ahead of the Topps brand.

When Jensen returned to the game for 1961, Topps welcomed him back with three cards in its regular set; there was a "regular" card in the high-number series, a card in the MVPs subset and a multi-player "Beantown Bombers" feature card shared with Frank Malzone and Vic Wertz. Jensen was also on a Topps stamp insert that year.

The color photo on my custom '60 Jensen is a closer-cropped version of the picture that appeared on the cover of the June 23, 1958, issue of Sports Illustrated.

It's ironic that since the 1960 Topps set was one of my favorites during childhood and as a latter-day collector it took me so long to create a couple of my own. Perhaps there will be some more in the future.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

'45 Dodgers dodged fiery death in train wreck

Luis Olmo from 1977-80 TCMA
"The War Years" set.
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.

A large contingent of the 1945 Brooklyn Dodgers narrowly escaped a fiery death when the train on which they were riding collided with a gasoline tanker truck at a crossing near Manhattan, Ill.

About 6:30 on the morning of Sept. 15, while making a night jump from St. Louis to Chicago, the train of three passenger coaches and three baggage cars hit the gas truck about 40 miles west of the Windy City.

Traveling on the train were 13 players, the manager, two coaches, several team officials. and nine newspaper men. The eight Dodgers regulars (Frenchy Bordagaray, Tom Brown, Augie Galan, Goody Rosen, Mike Sandlock, Ed Stanky, Eddie Stevens, Dixie Walker), who had played a twi-night doubleheader in which they had twice beaten the Cardinals, 7-3 and 6-1, in St. Louis were on another train and pitcher Les Webber had left for Chicago the previous afternoon.

Despite the overnight train ride, they were scheduled to play a Saturday doubleheader at Wrigley. The Dodgers were traveling on a day coach, rather than a Pullman sleeper, due to wartime transportation restrictions. Some were stretched out asleep on the floor, which may have helped minimize injuries from flying glass.

Manager Leo Durocher was credited with averting a panic when the players began to stampede as they saw flames licking at busted windows. “Don’t run, fellows,” the skipper yelled, “Take it easy and go out by the rear door.”

The train’s engineer was burned to death in the cab. His fireman jumped out and was treated at the scene by Dodgers trainer Harold Wendler. The fireman was able to limp to an ambulance and was taken to the hospital with third-degree burns, from which he eventually recovered. The gas truck’s driver escaped serious injury.

None of the Dodgers was seriously hurt. Coach Chuck Dressen suffered an injury to his right knee and Luis Olmo received a cut on his arm from flying glass.

Even the team’s uniforms and equipment were unscathed. While two of the baggage cars were constructed of wood and were destroyed, the team’s equipment manager Danny Comerford had stowed the gear in the third baggage coach, which was built of steel.

The town of Manhattan didn’t fare nearly so well. Townspeople who witnessed the wreck said the train was a flaming torch as it passed through the town of 600 before it was brought to a stop about a quarter-mile down the tracks. A coal yard, a lumber yard and the freight station all caught fire and the Manhattan fire department had its hands full containing the blaze.

Besides the previous mentioned Dodgers, the lucky Bums who escaped the wreck were players Eddie Basinski, Ralph Branca, Cy Buker, John Dantonio, Curt Davis, Hal Gregg, Babe Herman, Art Herring, Clyde King, Vic Lombardi, Johnny Peacock and Tom Seats, coach Red Corriden and traveling secretary Harold Parrott.

Just hours after the accident, the Dodgers split a doubleheader with the Cubs, winning 12-5 and losing 6-7.

Barnstormers also got lucky
Less than a month after the Dodgers’ close call, a barnstorming squad of American League ballplayers also escaped injury in a fatal train wreck.

Bert Shepard from 1948-50
Washington, D.C. Safe-T-Card set.
A Great Northern passenger train derailed about 10 miles north of Great Falls, Mont., on Oct. 9. The engineer and fireman were killed when the locomotive, tender and baggage car overturned.

The American League all-stars were reportedly shaken up but uninjured.

The fortunate ballplayers were Steve Gromek, Frank Hayes, Jeff Heath and Allie Reynolds of the Indians; Sam Chapman, Bobo Newsom and Buddy Rosar of the of the Athletics, Al Evans and Bert Shepard of the Senators and Jim Bucher of the Red Sox.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Bobby Cox gets two custom cards

Bobby Cox, one of the newest Hall of Famers. had only a single mainstream baseball card issued during his playing days, in the 1969 Topps set.

You can't really fault Topps for not including Cox in its 1968 set, because he was making his first major league appearance that season, after eight years in the minors, and Topps may not have had a photo of him in a Yankees uniform.

By the time the 1970 set was being compiled, Cox had played his last game in the big leagues.

A couple of years ago I found a nice batting-pose photo of Cox from the Topps archives and knew that someday I'd be enhancing his baseball card presence with a custom creation. 

When he was announced as having been elected to the Hall of Fame earlier this month, I figured the time had come.

I dithered for a while before deciding on which Topps format to use. 

For some reason the Cox photo most strongly suggested to me a 1971-style card. While it would have been somewhat of an anachronism, it would not have been completely "wrong." The Yankees had, after all, re-signed Cox in July, 1971, after having released him at the end of the 1970 season. He was obviously re-signed for the purpose of developing him as a manager, rather than using him as a player, but a '71-style card wouldn't have been too jarring.

Nobody would have thought twice about seeing Cox on a 1970 Topps card. Though he had lost the starting third baseman job to Jerry Kenney in 1969, Cox had played most of the final month of the season at the hot corner when Kenney had been moved to shortstop.

While a 1970-style Cox custom would have been the most "believable," that format has never been one of my favorites.

In the end I decided to do a pair of Cox cards, in the 1968 and 1971 formats. While the '68 is a decent-looking card, it turns out my gut feeling about a '71 was right.

I think Cox was worth two of my cards, since he was manager of my favorite team in its 1990s heyday. Besides, as I said once in an SCD column 15-20 years ago, as Cox aged, he looked more and more like Charlie Grimm, and for a Milwaukee Braves fan in the 1950s, that wasn't a bad thing. 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Timely rerun of my Phil Robertson custom card

Because he's been much in the news lately, I thought I'd rerun my blog entry Sept. 26 announcing my custom card of Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson for those who may have missed it

*  *  *

About this time last week I learned for the first time that Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson had played college football.

Less than 24 hours later, I had created the card you see here as an addition to my updating of the venerable 1955 Topps All-American football series.

If you want to learn about Robertson's days at Louisiana Tech, I recommend this web site:

That site, and a few others, gave me all the information I needed to create my card's back.

A google search turned up a few images, including the portrait I used. 

That was actually my second choice.

There is a very nice posed action college publicity photo of Robertson widely available on the internet, but when I downloaded it, I found it be too low in resolution to be practical. My efforts to colorize the action photo were atrocious.

The fact that the portrait photo was cut off quite close to the neck made it necessary for me to create the card in vertical format and resulted in the largest player picture I've used on any of my custom '55-style cards. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Bowman, 0-for-41, called to pinch-hit

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.

The situation was baseball melodrama at its finest.

In the first game of an Aug. 12, 1945, doubleheader at the Polo Grounds the game was on the line.

The Reds were down 2-3 in the ninth inning. Two were out and Cincinnati had runners at second and third.

Pitcher Vern Kennedy, batting ninth, was due up. Ace Adams had taken the mound for the Giants after starter Van Mungo had given up back-to-back singles to open the innings.

With the tying run at third and a go-ahead run on second, Jimmie Wilson, filling in as Reds manager while Bill McKechnie was on leave tending to a sick wife, called for a pinch-hitter.

Up to the plate came pitcher Joe Bowman. He flied out to center, ending the game.

You have to wonder what Wilson had been thinking. 

Prior to that pinch-hit appearance, Bowman had gone 41 straight at-bats without a hit. He was batting .057 at the time. Sure, he was a left-handed batter facing the right-handed Adams, but Kennedy also hit lefty and he was batting .233 at the time.

Bowman had been called on as a pinch-hitter nine times previously that season. He had gone 1-for-8 with a walk.

To be fair, Bowman had once been a good-hitting pitcher. With the Pirates in 1938 he had hit .333. In 1939 he had batted .344, but had been only 6-for-33 (.182) as a pinch-hitter.

Following his Aug. 12 at-bat, Bowman had only one more pinch-hit appearance that season, also unsuccessful. 

The 1945 season was Bowman's last year in the major leagues. He'd been a big leaguer in all or parts of 11 seasons since 1932, with two years in the military during World War II. He had a lifetime pitching record of 77-96 with a 4.40 ERA. His lifetime batting average in the bigs was .221.

Bowman's only mainstream baseball card appearances were in the 1939 and 1940 Play Ball sets.

Friday, December 13, 2013

I've updated my 1958 Ed Bouchee custom

Nearly two years ago I created a custom 1958 Topps-style card of Ed Bouchee, filling a gap that Topps had created when it checklisted, but never printed a 1958 card for the Phillies first baseman.

While I was basically satisfied with my creation, I was always somewhat dissatisfied with having had to use the photo from the 1960 Topps Bouchee card.

Some months ago I found a great team-issued posed portrait photo of Bouchee and decided to have another go at a 1958.

While I could have simply replaced the player picture on my black-background earlier card, I decided to explore options.

In the 1958, Topps used five different background colors on its Phillies cards: light blue, blue, black, orange and yellow. I chose yellow for my new Bouchee.

While looking over original 1958 Phillies cards I noticed for the first time that Topps used four different versions of the team name, apparently depending on the length of the position designation that shares the bottom color bar. The team can be found as PHILA. PHILS., PHILA. PHILLIES, PHILADELPHIA PHILS., or PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES.

This should conclude my efforts at adding Ed Bouchee to the 1958 Topps issue.

Reprinted below in my blog posting from March 27, 2012, in which I introduced my first Bouchee card.

Kids looking to complete a set of 1958 Topps baseball cards back in the day were confounded by the inability to locate card #145, Ed Bouchee. 

The Second Series checklist on the back of the Washington Senators team card (#44) confirmed that the Phillies slugging young star first baseman was card #145. But, hold on. The Second Series checklist on the back of the Phillies team card (#134) had no name beside the box for card #145. 

Was there, or was there not, a 1958 Topps card #145 Ed Bouchee?

There was not. 

At least until now . . . sort of .

My latest custom card creation is a 1958 Topps-style card #145, Ed Bouchee.

I'm not going to go into the reasons Topps did not issue the card. It's a sad story that serves no purpose in the retelling. 

Even today, some collectors are not 100% certain that Topps did not print the Bouchee card and that at least a few made it into gum packs. I'm of the opinion that the card was never printed. If it had been on the Second Series press sheet, I'm certain that at least a few would have slipped out. Despite internet rumors to the contrary, nobody has ever seen an authentic '58 Topps Bouchee.

First version of my '58T Bouchee.
Bouchee made his Topps rookie card appearance in the scarce 1957 #265-352 series. Batting .293 with 17 home runs and 76 RBIs that season, he came in second to teammate Jack Sanford in N.L. Rookie of the Year voting. The Sporting News, which divided its own Rookie of the Year awards between pitchers and position players, made Bouchee its N.L. position player winner.

In the remaining five years of Bouchee's major league career, he never again matched his '57 hitting numbers, and ended big league days as a member of the original 1962 N.Y. Mets expansion team. 

With the exception of 1958, Bouchee appeared on Topps cards every year between 1957-62.

It may be coincidental, but the only other major multi-team baseball card issue of 1958, the Hires Root Beer carton stuffers set of 76, also has an unissued card. There is no card #69. However, since there is also no checklist, we'll never know if Bouchee was intended to be part of that set.

For my custom card, I chose to go with the dramatic black background that, if my memory serves me correctly, was only seen on Phillies cards in the 1958 Topps set. I liked those as a kid, and I like them now.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Nashville coach Lucas pinch-hit .444 in '45

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.

From the time he retired after the 1938 season until 1966, National League pitcher Charles "Red" Lucas held the major league career record for pinch-hits.

In 16 major league seasons (1923-38) the left-hand hitting Lucas collected 114 pinch hits in 437 at-bats for a .261 average.  That record stood until 1966 when Jerry Lynch ended his career with 116 pinch-hits. (Today the record is held by Lenny Harris, with 212.)

In 1945, Lucas again made pinch-hit news when, at age 43, he hit .444 (16-for-36) as a pinch-hitter for the Nashville Volunteers of the Southern Association, a team which he served as a coach. Along with 13 singles he had a double and two triples, had drawn 10 walks and driven in nine runs. The previous season he had hit .333 pinch-hitting for the Vols.

Over the course of his big league career (1923 Giants, 1924-25 Braves, 1926-33 Reds, 1934-38 Pirates), Lucas had a .281 batting average. Pitching mostly for second-division teams, he had a lifetime 157-135 record with 3.72 ERA.

He was a durable, control-conscious pitcher whose mark of 1.6 walks per nine innings is still in baseball's top 20.

Partly because he was such a successful hitter, Lucas once pitched what The Sporting News described as a major league record of 250.1 innings without being lifted for a reliever. In doing my due diligence, however, I found that Jack Taylor of the Cubs and Cardinals pitched in 202 consecutive games without relief between 1902-07.  

Two more notes about Lucas as a pitcher . . . 

In 1921 he threw a no-hitter for Greenwood against Clarksdale in the Mississippi State League playoffs.

After he was traded by the Reds to the Pirates, Lucas never lost a game to Cincinnati; he was 14-0 against them 1934-38.

In a 1945 interview, Lucas credited his pinch-hitting ability to being "blessed with good eyesight." He said night ball didn't bother him. He also noted that he closely studied the delivery of opposing pitchers and that he seldom swung at the first pitch, preferring to get a feel for the pitcher's "stuff." 

Lucas can be found in many of the baseball card issues of his era, most notably the 1933 Goudey and 1934-36 Diamond Star sets.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Another shot for Jack Daniels

It's not surprising that Braves outfielder Jack Daniels had only a single career-contemporary baseball card (1953 Bowman) because he had only one season in the major leagues.

After five seasons in the Boston Braves farm system, including three years at Class A Hartford in the Eastern League, Daniels got his chance as a fourth outfielder for the 1952 team.  He had three things going for him: He was a left-handed batter, he had good speed in the outfield and on the bases, and he had a strong throwing arm.

1953 Bowman
No professional ballplayer can truly be said to have been unsuccessful if he played even a single season in a major league uniform back in the days when the big leagues comprised just 16 teams. Let's just say that Daniels didn't meet expectations.

He was used with minimal success as a pinch-hitter most of the first two months of the 1952 season, then generally was platooned with Bob Thorpe in right field. He batted only .187 for the year, with a pair of home runs. 

Daniels does hold the distinction of being the only major league player to have been hit by a pitch from Ron Necciai, the Pirates strikeout phenom. On Aug. 24, Necciai hit Daniels in the back of the head in the third inning. He was carried off on a stretcher. He spent a night and a day at Pittsburgh's Presbyterian Hospital as a precaution, and rejoined the team in Cincinnati on Aug. 27. 

When the Braves moved to Milwaukee for 1953, they had acquired Andy Pafko for their regular right fielder and Daniels' days in the big leagues were over. Pafko generally hit about 100 points higher than Daniels.

He played six more seasons in the high minors, batting about .247 and twice challenging for his league's home run title. He was second in the Southern Association in 1956 with 34, and fifth in the American Association in 1954 with 23.

Topps certainly couldn't be faulted for leaving Daniels out of its 1952 and 1953 sets, but when I find a nice portrait photo on the internet, I figured it would make a good-looking 1952 Topps-style card.

The front of my custom card utilizes the background from of my favorite '52T Braves cards, Johnny Antonelli.

I credit fellow custom-card maker John Rumierz with an assist on my card back. John specializes in creating 1952-format cards for every player who appeared in the major leagues in 1952 . . . he has done hundreds.
He graciously acceded to my request for a scan of his card's back so I could pick up Daniels' "Past Year" and "Lifetime" stats, saving me a lot of time and frustration searching them out.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Sharing my perspective on baseball in 1945

I've recently returned to my Wisconsin home after a couple of months spent at my Pennsylvania address.

Since I keep my microfilm reader in Pennsylvania, that's where I do my reading of back issues of The Sporting News. from which I glean much of the substance for my posts.

My reading this trip was the year of 1945. Because it pre-dates the resumption of baseball card issue, I had no previous had more than a passing interest the world of baseball at the end of World War II.

As always, I learned a lot by reading contemporary accounts.

While I had known that the war had caused many ballplayers to switch their flannels for Uncle Sam's uniforms. I did not realize the extent of the war efforts claims on manpower. If I recall my reading correctly, some 450+ men on major league rosters were called into service between 1940-45, and the minor leagues contributed more than 4,000 men, so severely limiting resources that many of the lower classification circuits closed their parks for the duration.

What I hadn't fully appreciated was the fine line baseball (and other sports) had to tread to maintain public sympathy and government acquiescence for its officially 4-F players who were performing professionally. Many thought that if a man was able to play for pay, he should be required to serve in some capacity in the military.

I found interesting that shortage of transportation resources -- space on trains, as well as gas and tires for buses and autos -- forced much scrambling by teams to create and maintain schedules. It's widely known that during the war teams were largely restricted to spring training  sites near their home bases. Things got so bad that in 1945, one highly-placed Detroit Tigers official seriously suggested that the team's spring training should consist of the team walking between its spring training camp to a city some 375 miles away, and playing exhibition games along the way over the course of three weeks.

The 1945 TSN provided great first-hand accounts of amputee big leaguers such as Pete Gray and Bert Shepard. One congressional representative suggested that each major league team be required to have on its roster an amputee.

Of course the baseball year 1945 closed with a bombshell when Jackie Robinson was signed to a contract with the Montreal Royals in the Brooklyn Dodgers' system. Many columns were filled with reaction to the news; much of it was fascinating reading from the vantage point of nearly 75 years of perspective.

So I've got 12 or 15 prospective blog posts concerning baseball as it was in 1945 that I'll share with you over the next two or three months, interspersed, of course, with presentations of my newest custom/fantasy card creations.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

'47 Yankees win skein generated rare memorabilia

(Photos courtesy Hunt auctions.)
My interest in the hobby has always tended more towards baseball cards than collectible memorabilia, so I’m not surprised that I never knew of the existence of team-issued keepsakes to New York Yankees active during the team’s 19-game winning streak June 29-July 18, 1947.

A short article in the Aug. 27, 1947, issue of The Sporting News’ “Major League Flashes” column revealed the existence of those items:


Yankees with the club during their 19-game winning streak received mementoes of the feat, August 15. They had the choice of a wrist watch, traveling clock or table cigarette humidor, each bearing the inscription, “New York Yankees, 19 straight, American League record,” with the name of the player.

There was no mention of which of the front office staff may have also received the gifts, and while they were not mentioned, it can be presumed that manager Bucky Harris and the coaches also were recipients.

Unless there was more than one version of the inscription, TSN got it slightly wrong.

The watch that was presented to Joe DiMaggio is engraved on back with a facsimile autograph at top, the Yankees logo at center with “19” to the left and “47” at right, and below that, “19 STRAIGHT WINS / AMERICAN LEAGUE RECORD”.

The watches were 14K gold, manufactured by Jules Jurgensen.

DiMaggio’s watch was sold in a Hunt auction in May, 2006, for $7,590.

The watch presented to player-coach Frank Crosetti was also known in the hobby, but was reported lost in Seattle a few years back.

The Yankees winning streak began in the second game of a June 29 doubleheader. During the string of wins, they played seven doubleheaders, including back-to-back-to-back twin bills on the road July 12-15 and another on the 17th.

On July 18, Fred Hutchinson of the Tigers ended the streak with an 8-0 shutout.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Filling the Ted Williams gap in 1960 Topps

A couple of days ago I presented a truly ugly Ted Williams card from the 1959 Fleer set.

Now I want to show you my custom/fantasy card of Ted Williams done in the style of 1960 Topps. Because of his exclusive Fleer contract, Williams did not appear in Topps sets of 1959-61.

While paging through the latest auction catalog from Legendary two weeks ago, I saw a lot offering vintage Ted Williams photos. Looking at them, I knew they had the makings for a 1960 Topps-style card. There was a picture of a smiling Williams standing at the batting cage and a picture showing his classic swing.

I had the feeling I'd seen the batting cage portrait somewhere before, and sure enough when I googled "1960 Topps Ted Williams" images, up popped a picture of a custom card by Keith Conforti.

Massachusetts collector and card artist Conforti has done some masterful work in custom baseball "cards that never were." His 1960 Topps Ted Williams is similar to mine, but he went there first. I don't believe Keith does card backs, however.

Here's a link to a gallery of his cards:

The back of my '60 Williams was a challenge. For many of its originals, Topps presented bullet-point "Season's Highlights" for the player. 

Frankly, in 1959 Williams didn't have many season highlights. It was his worst year ever, batting only .254. Still, with the aid of's Game Logs for the year, I was able to fill the required space.

While you'll notice that Conforti has created a number of the 1959-60 Topps subset cards with Williams, I think this is likely to be my only Ted Williams card.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Ugliest. Card. Ever.

Certainly a contender for the "honor" of being the ugliest baseball card of all time is #34 in the 1959 Fleer "Baseball's Greatest" Ted Williams set.

The card pictures Ted Williams sliding into what appears to be a green "smoke monster." According to the card back, the picture is a Wide World Photo from the July 8, 1947, All-Star Game at Wrigley Field, showing Williams sliding into second base on a double.

In reality, the airbrushed green glob covers the image of St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Marty Marion taking the throw from right fielder Dixie Walker. 
Original wire photo.

Williams had doubled down the right field foul line off Harry Brecheen in the top of the fourth inning. While he advanced to third base on Lou Boudreau's single, he was stranded there. The American League went on to win the game 2-1.

Presumably Fleer was forced to obscure Marion's image because Topps held the baseball-card rights to his image in 1959. If that was the case, they would have obtained the rights with their 1955 purchase of Bowman. Marion never appeared on a Topps card in that era, having been on Bowman cards each year 1948-53.

By the time the 1960 and 1961 Fleer Baseball Greats were issued, however, Fleer evidently had obtained the rights; Marion appears in both those sets in a White Sox uniform from his days (1954-56) managing Chicago.

We've arguably looked at the ugliest Ted Williams card of all time. Next time I'll show you what I hope you'll think is a pretty good-looking Ted Williams card . . . my 1960 Topps-style TW custom.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Trippi, Bulldogs' best, added to my '55s

Bear Bryant said that Charley Trippi was the best athlete in Georgia Bulldogs' history. 

 In reading back issues of the 1947 Sporting News, I ran across many stories about Trippi, particularly concerning the summer he spent in pro baseball before starting his Hall of Fame NFL career in 1947.

I was surprised to realize that I have never considered adding a Charley Trippi  college card to my update set of 1955 Topps All-American style custom cards. That omission has now been rectified.

Trippi did well in professional baseball as a "summer job". 

After he'd indicated an interest in pro ball, Trippi was approached by a number of major league teams. Some of the bonus offers made were substantial, but all fell through when Trippi would not forego the idea of joining the NFL Chicago Cardinals in the fall. By the way, that's not a typo on the back of my card, Trippi was drafted by the Cardinals in the 1945 NFL draft; they had some sort of "futures" option in the draft back then.

In 1947 he signed to play baseball for the Atlanta Crackers of the Southern Association, being both a legitimate prospect -- he had been an All-American in 1946 and hit over .400 for the Bulldogs -- and a fan-favorite gate attraction.

Trippi played at first base and in the outfield. In 106 games (about 2/3 of the season) he led the team with a .334 batting average, though without much power, hitting only three home runs. He slugged a tripe in his final game for Atlanta, Aug. 13.

Trippi must have reported to his first Cardinals training camp tired. After playing nearly every minute of Georgia's 11-0-0 season he 1946, he went barnstorming with the Bulldogs' basketball team, then stepped onto the diamond with Atlanta.

He began his NFL career with the Chicago Cardinals in 1947, having signed a four-year $100,000 contract.

Trippi was provisionally sold to the Chicago White Sox for 1948, but when the team demanded he quit playing pro football, he opted for the gridiron career.


In 1953, Trippi considered a comeback in professional baseball. When Atlanta sold his contract to Jacksonville of the South Atlantic League, Trippi demand 40% of the sales price, according to a provision in his 1947 contract. Crackers' president Earl Mann replied that Trippi was only due a piece of the action if his contract was sold to a higher classification minor league, not a step down. 
Thus the comeback fell through and Trippi returned to the Cardinals through the 1955 season, compiling a Hall of Fame career. Besides the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Trippi was also selected to the College Football Hall of Fame, the Georgia Hall of Fame and the Italian Hall of Fame. 

After his playing days, Trippi returned to the University of Georgia for a time as head baseball coach.  Trippi's addition to the Crax was noted on the front cover of the Atlanta Journal's Sunday rotogravure magazine on April 13, 1947.

That magazine picture would allow for the creation of a custom baseball card, if a person was so inclined.

Trippi, by the way, is fast approaching his 91st birthday.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Ruth tribute card was 1947, not postmortem, issue

Accounts gleaned from 1947 issues of The Sporting News have shed new light on a Babe Ruth card that has for many years been cataloged as a 1948 issue; we now know that it was issued in 1947 (and possibly reissued in 1948 in a slightly modified version).

The tribute card is black-and-white, 3-7/8" x 5-7/8" with a borderless chest-up portrait of Ruth in a road uniform and a facsimile autograph. On back is a voluminous statistical summary of his career (though, curiously, it omits mention of his 1935 season with the Brooklyn Dodgers), along with career highlights and a few bits of biographical data. 

The line at the top of the card: "George Herman Ruth, a mighty man was he," and a line near the bottom "Glory ad infinitum," suggested to some (myself included when I first added the card to the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards many years ago) that the card may have been issued shortly after Ruth's death in August, 1948. The lack of a date of death on the card, however, was puzzling if it was indeed a postmortem issue.

This card was listed in the catalog as "1948 American Association Babe Ruth" on the basis of a line of type at the very bottom on back, "Compliments of the American Association of Professional Baseball Clubs." The listing mentioned a second version without the AA attribution.

In TSN we find that Sunday, April 27, 1947, was “Babe Ruth Day” around the major and minor leagues. A pre-game program at Yankee Stadium was broadcast live or by recording at ballparks all over the country.

The American Association, a Midwestern circuit of Class AAA minor league teams, was no exception.

The April 2 issue of The Sporting News reported, “In each of the four A.A. parks (Toledo, Louisville, St. Paul and Kansas City) on that date, spectators will be given a free autographed picture of Ruth, with the reverse side of the memento showing the Bambino’s complete diamond record.”

Two versions of the 1947 Babe Ruth tribute card are known.
(Courtesy FKW Century Old Cards web site.)
TSN’s box scores for those games didn’t include attendance figures, but accounts in the paper mentioned there were 12,351 at st. Paul and 13,872 at Kansas City. With those numbers to go by, it would be reasonable to assume that something on the order of 50,000 of the Ruth tribute cards might have been on hand for distribution. Whether or not they were all given out to fans attending the games, or distributed later in some fashion is unknown.

In Tokyo and Osaka, Japanese professional baseball also celebrated Babe Ruth Day on April 27. Ruth had been extremely popular with baseball fans there ever since his appearance with an all-star baseball tour in 1931. According to TSN, prizes awarded to spectators at those games included pictures of Ruth. (No doubt some of those Japanese souvenirs survive within the hobby today, though I don’t recall any such pictures that have been specifically linked to the event.)

As early as September, 1948, and continuing into the 1949 pre-season, the Ruth card -- minus the American Association notation -- was advertised in  the Pacific Coast Baseball News as a premium with the purchase for $1 of an annual 13-issue subscription to the semi-monthly magazine issued during the baseball season; alternatively, the publisher offered the card alone for a dime in other ads. Similar ads were run at the same time in The Sporting News.

The card, in either version, probably has a current market value of $75-250, depending on condition.

Unfortunately, the listing was dropped from the Standard Catalog after the 2011 edition when attempts were made to switch data bases from which the book was compiled. If it ever reappears, it should be as a 1947 issue.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Jake Powell died as he'd lived, Part II

(Continued from yesterday)

Jake Powell remained in the majors through the 1945 season, but with World War II ended and hundreds of ballplayers returning to diamond action, Powell could find no team willing to take him on for 1946. He tried a brief comeback in 1948 with Gainesville in the Class D Florida State League, but lasted only 30 games.

A few months after he had left pro ball, Powell was in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 4, 1948. After writing bad checks totaling $300 at the hotel where he was staying, and at least one other for $25 at a local drug store, Powell was arrested as he tried to leave town. The hotel clerk had become suspicious, and telephoned the Dayton, Ohio, bank on which the checks had been drawn. When he was informed Powell had no account there, the clerk chased the former ballplayer down at Union Station, where he was about to board a train with a young woman who claimed the pair was planning to be married later that day. (Powell was reportedly still married to wife Elizabeth at the time.)

The pair was taken to a metro police station. When Powell was granted permission to have a private conversation with his companion he produced a .25 caliber automatic pistol. Shouting, “Hell, I’m going to end it all,” he shot himself in the left side of his chest. The wound from the tiny pistol didn’t kill Powell, so he shot himself again, in the right temple. He was dead when an ambulance arrived 10 minutes later. The same gritty determination that marked Powell’s baseball play was evident in the manner of his suicide.

A week after running his obituary, TSN printed a full-page retrospective of Powell, the man and the ballplayer.

One of the pieces was a reprint of a Shirley Povich column from the Washington Post that had run the previous August, upon Powell’s release by Gainesville.

Povich described Powell as, “problem boy of the Nats, World’s Series hero with the Yankees, ruthless on the baselines, vague about train schedules and contemptuous of the outfield fences.”

The column recounted the story of Powell’s ill-advised interview, though Povich substituted the word “citizens” for “niggers” (a nicety that The Sporting News usually adhered to in subsequent articles).

The Povich piece concluded with this assessment “Powell belonged to a by-gone era of baseball. He was of a piece with the rough-and-ready, rootin’ tootin’ element that never did trifle much with the niceties of competition. Jake was not particular about how he tried to win games. There was just one big idea with him—winning. With Jake, winning justified all the tactics.”

Shortly after the radio faux pas Povich had commented to the effect that if Powell was no more effective with a nightstick than he was with a baseball bat, the “citizens” of Dayton had little to fear.

On that same page of the Nov. 17 TSN, was a column by Vincent X. Flaherty, then of the Los Angeles Examiner, who had known Powell since his days on the sandlots of Washington, D.C.  

Flaherty wrote, “I remember Powell as a helter-skelter, slam-bang athlete who made up for lack of size with aggressiveness. In baseball he was always tough. Away from the game he was a nice quiet boy who seemed skeptical of those who slapped him on his back and told him he was a great ball player.

“Jake was never a bad kid,” Flaherty continued, “I’ll never believe he was a bad man. He was impetuous, had a fierce uncontrollable temper, would fight the biggest guy around at a drop of a hat.”

Flaherty then told a tale of how hours after receiving one of his World’s Series winner’s share checks, Powell had dropped the entire $7,000 throwing dice and buying liquor for the house at an underground gambling establishment.

The third piece on that page was by Red Smith, of the N.Y. Herald Tribune. He wrote that a lot of stories could be told about Jake Powell, but that he would tell only one, “which may explain a couple of things. That is, it may furnish a little insight into the nature of a guy who never knew fear and never knew what was good for him, a guy who often acted on impulse and was wrong more often than not.”

Smith prefaced his tale by summarizing Powell’s infamous interview as including “a thoughtless remark that offended thousands of Negroes.”

He wrote, “A storm ensued. The American League office in Chicago was flooded with protests. There was talk of a boycott against any park where Powell might be playing. Jake was as wrong as wrong could be.

“Well, the next time Powell got to New York he went up to the top end of Harlem. He went alone, after dark. He worked down from north to south, stopping in every saloon he came across.

“In each he introduced himself. He said that he was Jake Powell and he said that he had made a foolish mistake and that he was sorry. Then he ordered drinks for the crowd and moved on to the next joint.

“He did that by himself, on his own initiative, after dark, in a section where he had reason to believe feeling ran high against him. That’s one story about Jake Powell. The only story here.”

Since most of Jake Powell’s career was concurrent with the lean years of baseball card issues, he did not leave much of a cardboard legacy. Among mainstream issues, he is only found in the Play Ball sets of 1939 and 1940.