Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Phillies rent kept A's solvent

One of the iconic aspects of the 1955 Bowman "Color TV" baseball card set is that the vast majority of player photos were taken at Philadelphia's Connie Mack Stadium (until 1953 known as Shibe Park). This holds true for National Leaguers as well as American Leaguers. 

Besides being home to teams in both leagues, Philadelphia was also the headquarters city for the Bowman gum company.

While Mack had built the majors' first concrete and steel stadium at 21st and Lehigh in Philadelphia in 1909, from mid-1938 through 1970 it was also the home field for the Philadelphia Phillies.

In many years, the Phillies' rental payments were greater than what the A's made on their own baseball operations.

The terms of the lease probably changed from year to year, but in 1950, the A's earned 10 cents from each admission to Phillies games and half of the concession income. 

That season both teams raked in a windfall on the Phillies attendance. Paid admissions to Phillies games that season were the greatest ever, 1,217,035, an increase of more than 48% over the previous season. That same year A's attendance drop by 62%, to just 309,035, part of a decline that hastened the team's removal to Kansas City for 1955.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Red Sox changed pix pack lineup mid-1950

One of my challenges as a cataloger with the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards for 20+ years was sorting out the contents of souvenir picture packs issued by many teams from the 1920s through the 1970s.

Many teams issued these picture packs early in the season and then updated them from time to time as players came and went. 

One prolific issuer of these picture packs in the 1940s and 1950s was the Boston Red Sox.

Massachusetts collector Bill Atkinson, who was a valued contributor to the Standard Catalog, recently forwarded information and photocopies on an updated version of the 1950 Red Sox picture pack.

Bill has two complete versions of that year's issue. Both are in the 6-1/2" x 9-1/4" format. Twenty of the 25 players and staff were the same in both sets, but five different pictures were exclusive to one or the other.

The five updated pictures are not included in that set's listing in the SCBC and are recorded here for the first time. 

Bill speculates that the first version of the picture pack was issued to coincide with the start of the 1950 season.

The five pictures in that set that were later replaced are:

  • Manager Joe McCarthy, replaced as skipper after the June 18 game.
  • Earl Johnson, pitcher, was sent down to minors after June 30 game
  • Ken Keltner, infielder, signed as free agent April 18, released June 6
  • Al Papai, pitcher, waived to St. Louis Cardinals, July 5
  • Charley Schanz, pitcher, waived to St. Louis Browns, July 5.

The five pictures that were added to the updated picture pack were:

  • Manager Steve O'Neill, took over June 20
  • Dick Littlefield, pitcher, debuted July 7
  • Willard Nixon, pitcher, also debuted July 7
  • Clyde Vollmer, outfielder, traded by Senators, May 8
  • George Susce, coach

Looking at the timing of the roster changes, it would seem the changeover came about the time of the All-Star break. It's also possible, though less likely, that the new pictures replaced the old in dribs and drabs over the course of the season.

The hobby owes Bill a tip of the cap for making this addition to the information base.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Phony call kept Spence off field

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 the last entry, I presented the story of a prank phone call that failed to put its intended victim off his game.

Here’s a similar episode that DID work, preventing a player from participating in a game.

I really can’t embellish the story, so I’ll present it as is appeared in the May 10, 1950, Sporting News.

Spence Misses a Game

On Phony Phone Call

By John B. Old

LOS ANGELES, Calif.—Police launched a widespread of a mysterious phone call to Wrigley Field, April 30, which resulted in Los Angeles Outfielder Stan Spence “sitting out” the second game of the Hollywood double-header.
Both President Don Stewart of the Angels and Clarence Rowland, president of the Coast League, branded the incident as a hoax. Police, however, continued the probe on the possibility some gambler may have called Spence by way of “getting back” at the Los Angeles club for having ejected a nationally known bookmaker the day before.
An emergency call, supposedly from Spence’s home town in North Carolina, came to the second floor office at Wrigley Field a few minutes before the second game was to start. “It was Doctor So-and-So calling,” the “operator” said.
The message was rushed to Spence. The Angel outfielder had fears something had happened to wife and children as he raced from the clubhouse to answer the call.
“Now close your eyes and concentrate,” began the caller when Spence reached the phone. Believing the call was from a medico in Kinston, Stan all but passed out. He clutched the telephone with trembling fingers. He feared the next words the “doctor” would utter.
“Concentrate,” said the “doctor” in a low drone. “You are going to get two hits in the second game . . . concentrate . . . you are going to get two hits—and if you do, I will give you FIVE HUNDRED DOLLARS!”
“Who the hell are you and where are you talking from?” thundered Spence. The man said he was a doctor in Gardena.
Spence rushed back to the dugout and found the game had already started. Having once been in the official lineup and taken out, he could not get back into the game. The man who was out there in his place was Cece Garriott . . . of Gardena!
To prevent recurrence of similar incidents, Stewart announced that henceforth no calls—regardless of their nature—would be relayed to players while the teams were on the field.
Police later learned the Spence call had been placed from a pay station at Gardena, Los Angeles suburb and haven of gamblers who are attracted to the city’s legalized poker palaces.
According to police investigating, known bookmakers frequent the city and baseball action is reported as “lively.” The nationally known bookmaker, object of numerous police investigations, has allegedly extended his operations over a widespread area in Southern California.
With his bodyguard, he came to Wrigley Field, April 29, occupying box seats near Stewart.
“H was just minding his own business,” commented Stewart. But when a questionable character dropped by to pay his respects, Stewart inquired his identity from a house officer seated at his side.
“Oh, that guy,” replied the officer. “Used to be a pickpocket but he’s reformed now—he’s a bookmaker!”
During the seventh inning several men sidled into the box of the nationally known bookmaker. They were city plainclothesmen. Exit the big bookmaker and his “gorilla”—quietly and unescorted.
“We only told them some fans might be apprehensive of their presence. They readily agreed they didn't want to cause any trouble and left peacefully,” the officers later explained.

Even with Spence out of the lineup, the Angels beat the Stars 3-1.

Spence had dropped back into the minor leagues in 1950 after nine seasons in the American League with Boston (1940-41, 1948-49), Washington (1942-44, 1946-47) and the St. Louis Browns (1950). He had been a four-time All-Star with the Senators and led the league with 15 triples in 1942.

His only mainstream baseball card is in the 1949 Bowman set.

Also tried unsuccessfully on Sievers

A similar scam was attempted on St. Louis Browns outfielder Roy Sievers in mid-1950.

A woman claiming to be calling from a St. Louis hospital tried to get through to manager Zack Taylor during a game, wanting him to relay to Sievers that his wife had suffered a heart attack and that the player needed to rush to her bedside.

The Browns' traveling secretary took the call and sniffed out the scam, since the hospital the caller named did not exist and the phone number he requested for confirmation proved phony, as well.

The team kept the attempt under wraps for several weeks while trying to find the culprit.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

How big of a dick . . .

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.

. . . would you have to be to try to steal a game this way?

On April 21, 1957, Cubs pitcher Don Kaiser was scheduled to start against the Cardinals at Busch Stadium. It was his first game of the season and the opener of a Sunday doubleheader.

Just before game time, a telegram addressed to Kaiser was received in the press box.

The wire read, “Phone home immediately. Mother desperately ill. Dad.”

Because the telegram was datelined Brooklyn and Kaiser was from Oklahoma, Ed Prell, a Chicago Tribune writer who delivered the message to the dugout, suggested to Kaiser that it was a phony.

After reading the wire, Kaiser agreed, saying, “My mom died on my last birthday.”

Kaiser started as scheduled, but left the game after pitching eight innings with no decision. The Cubs won the game 5-3.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Williams did double duty in Robinson movie

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.

Between the 1949 and 1950 seasons, The Jackie Robinson Story was filmed in Hollywood. The movie starred Robinson himself and was rife with professional ballplayers as supporting cast and extras.

Brooklyn Dodgers' farmhand Dick Williams was one of those extras, picking up $25 a day for his efforts to add realism to the biopic. That was more per day than he'd made with the Dodgers' club at Fort Worth club that season. 

I've never seen the movie. As much of a fan as I am of baseball in the 1950s, I've never been on the Jackie Robinson bandwagon.

Next time it's on late night TV, though, I may have to record it to watch a scene involving Dick Williams.

According to a short item in The Sporting News just prior to the 1950 season, Williams did double duty in one scene. 

He began the sequence as a Jersey City pitcher, with Montreal player Robinson at bat and being booed by the crowd. Jackie hits a home run to silence the crowd and as he trots around the bases, he passes Williams . . . playing the second baseman.

Movie was box office flop

Early reports from theaters around the country indicated that The Jackie Robinson Story was pretty much a bomb at the box office.

Brooklyn entertainment writer Ben Gould reported in a July article in TSN that the movie's run at Brooklyn's Fox Theater was cut short after just one week.

The movie had opened in Manhattan for a four-week engagement at the Astor Theater. Gross ticket sales there were around $35,000, less than $9,000 a week. 

While conceding that the New York run may have slaked some of the demand in Brooklyn, Gould termed the movie's one-week receipts of $18,000 in Brooklyn as "weak," saying that it had been expected would do "at least" $50,000 a week for its two-week engagement.

Gould reported that the movie also flopped in Boston, Buffalo, Baltimore and Washington, D.C., and did "just fair" in Cleveland, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.

Conversely, the Robinson movie "broke all attendance records" in Canada (where Robinson had gotten his start in Organized Baseball with Montreal in 1946) and California (where he had been a football star at UCLA). Standing room only lines were reported in Detroit and Chicago.

Gould also said that the movie was setting all-time local records in small towns across the nation, mentioning specifically DeKalb, Ill., and Wilson, N.C.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Football cards for Corso and Herbstreit

Like many of you I enjoy watching the ESPN College GameDay show on Saturday mornings. The easy byplay of hosts Kirk Herbstreit and Lee Corso sometimes make you forget that these guys are dispensing a good deal of solid information and analysis.

 Years ago when I made my 1955 Topps All-American style card of Burt Reynolds he suggested to me that I should make a similar card for Lee Corso. At that time I wasn't aware that Corso had also played football at Florida State and had been a roommate of Reynolds.

A Corso card kind of got pushed to the back burner as I didn't think a decent photo would be available. Recently, though, I decided to see what I could find and I came away with a perfectly suitable FSU publicity picture.

As well-known as Corso is, finding enough information to write up the card back was easy. Here's one website I found particularly useful: .

Similarly, there was plenty of information on the net about Kirk Herbstreit, and good color photos were plentiful. 

Besides Herbsreit's GameDay work, I especially enjoy the NBC Saturday night games when he is doing play by play. Brent Musberger . . . not so much.

I've been on quite a roll this winter building up my "Third Series" of All-American cards. I've got several more in the works that I'll be sharing here as they are completed.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Updating my '55-style Stanford cards

While watching the Wisconsin-Stanford Rose Bowl game, I became finally inspired to rehabilitate the two Stanford cards I had created in my nearly decade-long project of updating the 1955 Topps All-American football card set.

Among the earlier cards in that project were those of John Elway and Jim Plunkett.

These customs were created when my computer graphics skills were even less sophisticated than they are today. I don't remember where I got the Plunkett photo, but even after lightening the facial features, I always thought it was too dark. The Elway photo came from the cover of a 1982 Sports Illustrated and thus was somewhat grainy and not particularly well composed for a football card.

I was able to find much better photos in just a short time spent google-searching images for the Hall of Fame quarterbacks. I think I've upgraded these two cards considerably with the picture changes.

You've probably noticed that I used two different school logos on my Stanford cards. When Plunkett was attending, the team was still known as the Indians. By the time Elway got there, the nickname had been changed to the Cardinal and the goofy tree figure had become on their unofficial mascots.

Apropos of nothing, I once "met" Jim Plunkett. I didn't get in a word, but he said, "Excuse me," as he touched me on the shoulder on his way to the beach. The encounter came in February, 1981, while I was attending a coin show in Hawaii. The old Saturday afternoon TV competition series, Superstars, I think it was called, was filming on the beach at my hotel, and Plunkett had to make his way through a crowd of spectators to get to his event.

When I felt the tap on my shoulder, I turned around and saw this huge, chiseled bronze man in a swimming suit. I'm six feet tall (or I was back then) and Plunkett is listed at 6'3", but he looked a lot larger up close.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Boxer's limo is hefty bit of sports memorabilia

The other day while I was sorting through a long-untouched box of sports cards and memorabilia from my 30+ years of accumulating, I found this postcard.

It's from a series of 1970s postcards of high-end vintage autos published by Henry Austin Clark, who owned and operated the Long Island Auto Museum in Southampton. The Museum, and some of Austie's other cars, was pictured in one of my childhood favorite bubblegum card sets, the 1954-55 Topps World on Wheels.

The reason I have this postcard is that it depicts an auto that was owned by my former boss (and current owner of the building where I have my retirement office) Chet Krause.

At one time, the pictured auto was the crown jewel of his vintage motor vehicle collection. In 1971 Chet had founded Old Cars newspaper as an expansion of the numismatic periodicals and books line that he had begun in 1952. By the mid-1970s, his publishing business was doing real well, and he had the resources to indulge himself with buying and/or restoring all manner of vintage cars, trucks, tractors and gas engines.

For a tumultuous year in 1978-79, I served as editor of the Old Cars division at Krause Publications before moving on to create the company's baseball card division. 

The car on the postcard is a 1926 Minerva town car. It was built for former professional boxer Patrick "Packey" McFarland. 

McFarland was born in 1888 in Chicago and turned pro as a boxer in 1904. Fighting in the lightweight and welterweight divisions he compiled a record of 105 wins (51 by knockout) against just one loss, six draws and a no-contest.

Considering that record, it is surprising that McFarland never won a world title. Ring Record Book and Boxing Encyclopedia suggests McFarland was the best fighter to never become a world champion. During his career he met and defeated most of the title holders in his weight classes, but none of the bouts were for the championship.

He retired in 1915. Unlike so many boxers, he retired to a life of luxury. He had sizable investments and was a director of two banks. He could well afford this custom-built chauffeur-driven town car. In 1933 the governor appointed him to the Illinois Athletic Commission. 

Like most luxury autos in that era, McFarland's limo was one of a kind. The car was designed by Paul Ostruk. Its chassis was built by Minerva in Belgium. The body was crafted by LeBaron in New York and the car was powered by a 30 H.P. six-cylinder Knight engine.

McFarland died in 1936 when a staph infection attacked his heart. His widow sold the Minerva around 1946. In 1953 it was purchased by collector Embert Grooters of Grand Rapids, Mich. In the auction of his estate in 1972, Chet Krause bought the Minerva.

Speaking with Chet today, as he nears his 90th birthday, he recalled that the Minerva was a "little rough" by the time it reached his hands. He expended considerable money in refurbishing the body and engine.

The Minerva was used periodically to convey visiting dignitaries around Iola. I recall that in 1984, when Allen Kaye, publisher of Baseball Card News, brought his family to Iola to finalize the sale of his hobby paper to Krause Publications, his wife and daughters were much impressed by being chauffeured around town in the long blue beauty by a multi-millionaire. 

Not long thereafter, the Minerva was auctioned in one of James Leake's famed collector vehicle sales in Tulsa.

Electing to offer the car at no reserve, Krause was unpleasantly surprised when it was hammered down at a price that he recalls was under $25,000. Two of the auto hobby's deep pockets went after the Minerva initially, but when they discovered they were bidding against each other, one dropped out.

The car was sold to the Imperial Palace casino hotel in Las Vegas, where it was displayed for many years.  It was again sent to auction in 2000, and was bought by an English collector. Subsequently, it was sold to a collector in New Zealand. At last report, the car has been repainted in burgundy tones. 

During Chet's ownership of the Minerva, I bought an example of a T9 Turkey Red cabinet card of Packey McFarland. McFarland was one of 25 boxers in the 1910-11 series that was contemporary to the tobacco company's more famous T3 Turkey Red baseball players.

The card was kept in a pouch in the passenger compartment to show to guests. It may still be there today.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Faint praise for Courtney as TSN AL ROY

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 by-lined column on the editorial page of the Oct. 8, 1952, issue of The Sporting News appeared under the headline, “Rookie Crop Far Below Par,” with the subhead, ”Courtney Pick Rip-Off of General Lack of Talent.”
            In the column, Ed McAuley of the Cleveland News decried the selection of St. Louis Browns catcher Clint Courtney as The Sporting News’ American League Rookie of the Year. Courtney was the first catcher in either league to win the rookie award since it was established by TSN in 1946.
            McAuley called the selection, “dramatic evidence that the freshman class of 1952 was the least talented since World War II.”
            He strengthened his case by noting that Courtney’s only real competition for the A.L. honor was Red Sox catcher Sammy White.
            “With all due respect to these energetic marksmen,” McAuley wrote, “I submit that there is nothing in their records which would have gained them this distinction if the rest of the new talent in the league had been up to par.”
            In 1952 Courtney became the primary catcher for the St. Louis Browns. After just one game with the N.Y. Yankees in 1951, he had been traded to St. Louis in the off-season.
            With the Brownies in 1952, Courtney batted .286 with five home runs and 50 RBIs. He had led major league catchers with a .996 fielding average.
            The Sporting News Rookie of the Year in the National League was Brooklyn Dodgers relief pitcher Joe Black.
            The Baseball Writers Association of American chose as its Rookie of the Year Philadelphia A’s pitcher Harry Byrd, who had a 15-15 season. Courtney was second-place in the writers’ voting.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

New Year brings blog changes

Two years after retiring from my "day job" I've found that retirement is much different than I had envisioned.

Surprisingly I find myself with little more down time than I had when I was working for wages.

I'd planned to do much more reading and working on my custom cards than I'm able to do.

After looking at how I spend my days, I've decided that it is time to scale back on my blog.

For the past couple of years I have maintained a schedule of posting a new blog entry about every other day.

Effective immediately, I'm going to halve that workload. In cutting my output in half, I hope to not only create time to work on my custom cards, but also to improve the quality of each blog post. I've discovered that little of what I have to say is unique or especially insightful. Much of it is readily available on other sites on the internet.

As I find time for more custom cards, naturally the percentage of my blog posts that introduce each new card will rise.

Another change I'm instituting is the elimination of reader comments. The flood of spam that results from allowing comments has overwhelmed me. I get 50+ spam comments for each legitimate reader comment. Time spent sorting through the spam can be better used elsewhere.

If you want to comment on anything you read here, look into my profile for my email address and feel free to contact me that way.