Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Bowman had mail-in offer in 1949

In its early years of baseball card production, Bowman was a frequent advertiser in The Sporting News.

For 1949, they began their ad program quite late, the first ad appearing in the paper's All-Star Game special issue dated July 13.

Rather than just introducing its annual issue, as they did in later years, the 1949 Bowman ads in TSN were actually a mail-in promotion offering "25 assorted pictures" for 10 cents and two "outside wrappers" from the company's product, officially branded "Baseball Bubble Gum." The ad didn't specify whether the wrappers had to be from five-card nickel packs or whether they could be from single-card penny packs.

To avoid having you strain your eyes reading the body copy on the Bowman ad reproduced here from a microfilm of the TSN page, I'll spell it out . . . 

What a thrilling collection to own! 240 exciting photo picture cards of American and National League headliners -- ALL IN FULL COLOR! You can get these picture cards only in BASEBALL BUBBLE GUM-- five pictures in every 5-cent package of bubble-blowing chewing delight. Start your collection TODAY by sending 10 cents in coin, plus two outside wrappers from BASEBALL BUBBLE GUM, for 25 assorted pictures. Address: BASEBALL 9 West 61st Street, New York 23, N.Y.

On a related note, I found a tidbit in another 1949 issue that mentioned that at a game in the Polo Grounds during the season, Bowman had given away 5,000 packs of its baseball cards.

The mention didn't say whether they were penny packs or nickel packs. That surely must have been one of the first, if not the first, baseball card stadium giveaways. 

Perhaps they were packs left over at the New York fulfillment house that was handling the Bowman mail-in offer.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Cubs autographed balls benefited boys' homes

Because the Chicago Cubs didn’t “approve” of autographed baseballs in the late 1940s, several Windy City boys’ homes received windfalls of baseball equipment.
A short article in the Feb. 8, 1950, issue of The Sporting News was headlined, “Cubs’ Autographed Balls Supply Boys’ Equipment.”
The article read:

CHICAGO, Ill.—For the third straight year a school for homeless boys in Chicago has received a gift of playing equipment as a result of the Cubs’ policy of selling autographed balls for $5 each.
Every person asking the Cubs for an autographed ball receives a statement of policy which reads:
“We don’t approve of the fad for autographed baseballs. We think baseballs should be used in ball games, giving enjoyment to players and spectators, rather than reposing as relics on shelves or in drawers. But since some folks insist on autographed baseballs, we are trying an experiment. They are available at $5 apiece and the proceeds of the sale will be used to purchase baseball equipment for youngsters.

The article went on to specify that in 1947, the baseball equipment was given to Lawrence Hall, a home for Protestant orphans and “boys from broken homes.”
Subsequent beneficiaries were Angel Guardian Orphanage, a Catholic home, and, for the 1949 season, Nathan Marks Hall, operated by the Chicago Jewish Children’s Bureau.
For his $5, the ball collector received an Official National League ball supplied by the team, that was authentically autographed. In 1950, teams were paying $2.10 apiece for league balls.

Speaking of autographed balls . . .
In the Feb. 15 issue of TSN, it was reported that Lefty Grove auctioned one of the balls used in winning his 300th game at an American Legion dance in Lancoming, Md., to benefit the March of Dimes. The ball sold for $20.

Speaking of autographed balls (2) . . . 
A frequent advertiser in The Sporting News throughout 1949 was the company that sold facsimile-signed team balls, Autographed Ball Corp., of High Point, N.C.

The company was owned by former major leaguers Dick Culler and Billy Jurges. 

In 1949, a souvenir ball from any team could be had for $2. Today such facsimile-autographed balls from that era can sell for $50-100 to collectors.

The company is still in business today.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Custom card for tragic Angels pitcher Dick Wantz

As best I remember Topps only created one "In Memoriam" card for a player. That was 1964 card #550, Ken Hubbs, remembering the Cubs second baseman who was killed in a  plane crash on Feb. 15 that year.

They could have created a similar card the following year.

Dick Wantz was a California boy whom the Los Angeles Angels signed to a bonus contract out of a 1961 tryout camp in Southern California.

At the time the Angels were looking to develop their farm system in the same season that they debuted in the American League. In '61 the Angels had only two minor league teams, Dallas-Ft. Worth in the Class AAA American Association, and Statesville in the Class D Western Carolina League.

Wantz, at age 21, was assigned to Statesville. As the Angels expanded their farm system into higher classifications, Wantz advanced a step or two every season, despite the fact that he never had a winning season. He was 20-33 with a 4.29 ERA between 1961-64.

He was a lanky right-hander with a propensity for wildness. In 1962 he led the Midwest League with 16 hit batsmen. But he also could throw heat. In 1963 at Tri-City he recorded 164 strikeouts in 137 innings. Since the Northwest League didn't keep strikeout records, I don't know if that was league-best or not.

Wantz pitched in the Arizona Instructional League in the winter of 1964-65, with a 2-1 record. On the basis of a strong spring training, he made the major league team for 1965.

Wantz pitched only a single inning in the big leagues. In the top of the eighth inning of the season opener, with the Cleveland Indians ahead 5-0, Wantz was brought in to relieve Don Lee. While he struck out two of the six batters he faced, he gave up two doubles and a single for two earned runs.

A month later he was dead.

Wantz had been suffering from severe headaches for some time. When the Angels visited Detroit at the end of the month, Wantz was hospitalized there for a week before returning to Southern California where he was operated on at Daniel Freeman Hospital in Inglewood on May 12 in an effort to remove a cancerous brain tumor. He never regained consciousness and died the next day.

We'll never know at this late date why Topps chose not to issue an In Memoriam card for Wantz. They certainly had a usable photo.

The picture I used on my Dick Wantz custom card is courtesy of Keith Olbermann, who acquired it from the Topps archives. It's a good thing Olbermann recognized the importance of the image because I haven't found any other decent color photos of Wantz. Also courtesy of Olbermann are Wantz's strikeout numbers from 1961, 1963 and 1964 Tri-City. In that era, the leagues didn't promulgate certain stats for pitchers. Olbermann maintains an extensive baseball library and was able to get the K numbers from appropriate edition of the Baseball Guide.

In making a 1965-style Dick Wantz card, I chose to go with the regular format. Given the timeline of Wantz's MLB appearance and his death. It's just as easy to presume that Topps might have created an In Memoriam card for its high-number series. 

It would be easy enough for me to do an In Memoriam version, and I probably will in the near future. For now, I'm very happy with how my first attempt at a 1965-style custom card came out.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Cobb became Cardinal in 1949 cover contest

When the St. Louis Cardinals upgraded their scorecard to a “Souvenir Program” for the 1949 season, they created a contest to design the cover.

The prize for the winning idea was worth $100. If the winner could produce acceptable final artwork, another $400 was awarded.

St. Louis commercial artist Frank W. Love was named the winner from among 390 sketches received. He took home all $500 with his knothole look at a play at third that many collectors recognize as a Charles Conlon photo of Ty Cobb sliding into third base, as seen on a 1929 T202 Hassan tobacco card.

Notice that on Love's creation, the "Cobb" figure is wearing a St. Louis Cardinals uniform.

Judges for the contest were J.G. Taylor Spink, publisher of The Sporting News; D.R. Fitzpatrick, editorial cartoonist of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch; James B. Wilson, president of the St. Louis Advertising Club; Harry Caray, Cardinals radio broadcaster, and, O.A. Zahner, vice-president of Ruthrauff & Ryan Advertising Agency.

Very reasonably priced today, a decent example of the 1949 Cardinals program can be had for less than $20.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Jackie Robinson worth $2,000 to Bowman

In his “from the RUHL BOOK” column in the May 10, 1950, issue of The Sporting News, Oscar Ruhl wrote:

A close friend of Jackie Robinson says that Jackie’s total earnings from his life-story movie, baseball salary and endorsements for 1950 will run something like $135,000. One firm alone, a maker of bubble gum, paid him $2,000 for the right to use his name.

I assume that the bubble gum company that paid Robinson two grand must have been Bowman, since Leaf was out of the baseball card market by 1950

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Berardino's face insured in Indians' contract

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.

While it was likely done more for the publicity than in a serious vein, when Cleveland Indians owner Bill Veeck acquired John Berardino from the St. Louis Browns in the 1948 pre-season, Berardino’s contract called for Veeck to pay for a $100,000 insurance policy protecting the player in the event of significant facial injury as a result of playing baseball.

Berardino had played for St. Louis in the 1947 season, then been traded to the Washington Senators for Gerry Priddy. That deal fell through when Berardino announced that he was retiring from pro ball to concentrate on his movie career.

At the time he was filming the horse racing movie Winner’s Circle.

Working in concert with producer Richard F. Polimer, who held Berardino’s Hollywood contract, Veeck arranged a deal whereby Berardino would play for the Indians from spring training through the end of the season and any post-season in which Cleveland was involved (the Indians won the Word Series in 1948).

After the baseball season, Berardino was free to work in the movies.

Berardino, a handsome leading-man type, juggled baseball and movie careers until he retired from ballplaying after the 1952 season. He'd come to the majors in 1939 and spent the 1943-45 seasons in the military. 

While he appeared in dozens of motion pictures over the decades, Berardino is best remembered for having played Dr. Steve Hardy on the TV soap opera General Hospital from its debut in 1963 until his death in 1996. He is credited in that role as John Beradino, having dropped the second "r” from his surname.

Despite having played in the major leagues for 11 seasons (Browns 1939-42, 1946-47, 1951; Indians 1948-50, 1952); Pirates (1950-52), Berardino appears on only two mainstream baseball cards, 1951 Bowman and 1952 Topps. His first card was in the scarce 1941 St. Louis Browns team-issued set. Also widely available are several Cleveland Indians team-issued photo pack pictures.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Creekmur was targeted by Purple Gang hood

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 1950 Detroit Lions rookie guard Lou Creekmur was targeted in an extortion scheme by a former member of the Purple Gang, Detroit’s notoriously violent organized crime syndicate.

On Oct. 21, Dave Mazeroff was arrested in connection with a plot to extort $10,000 from Creekmur as hush money to cover up a non-existent assault on a young woman.

Police became involved when they were approached by 22-year-old Lucille Genoff, who told them Mazeroff had instructed her to accuse Creekmur of attacking her and to demand $10,000 not to go to the police.

According to the district attorney’s office, the woman refused to go through with the plan and Mazeroff threatened her. She said Mazeroff told her, “Don’t mess with me. You’ve heard about the Hooper killing. I’m fingerman in that one.” Police believed he was referring to the unsolved murder of State Senator Warren G. Hooper, who was killed while sitting in his car in 1945. Hooper was set to testify in a grand jury investigation into legislative graft in Michigan.

When he was told of the scheme, Creekmur denied knowing Genoff.

I couldn't find any record of the outcome of the Creekmur extortion case against Mazeroff. Nobody was ever convicted of pulling the trigger in Hooper's murder, though a number of people -- not including Mazeroff -- went to prison for conspiracy in the case.

Creekmur played his entire NFL career -- 1950-59 -- for the Detroit Lions. He was a six-time first team All-Pro and was elected to Hall of Fame in 1996. He died in 2009.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

1949 Ruth clock was "$247" item in its day

During my more active years as a collector, I sometimes lingered over auction listings for a bronze-tone art deco style Babe Ruth digital clock. I never pulled the trigger, but if I had encountered an example at a show, I might have made the purchase.

The clocks are a large, functional collectible that was nearly contemporary with the Babe, having been produced shortly after his death in 1948.

I recently found an ad in the June 29, 1949, issue of The Sporting News that offered the clocks to the public. The ad has some details that I don't recall ever seeing before.

The ad was placed by De Four Sales Co., Chicago. The clocks were made by Abbottwares Co., Los Angeles, and several recent auction offerings state that they were a top prize in a punchboard gambling game.

De Four Sales appears to have been distributing the unsold of the timepieces. Contemporary ads for the company show they were also the distributors of other types of bronze desk or mantel pieces such as clocks and radios featuring a Western saddled horse, ashtrays with a large cowboy boot, and radios made from beer and champagne bottles. The Ruth clock is also found in a much scarcer radio versionThey may have also been connected to the Joe Louis bronze clock that was produced about the same time as the Ruth.

The copy in De Four's ad in TSN reads . . . 

The incomparable Babe Ruth exquisitely sculptured in imperishable bronze. This beautiful statuette, flanked by baseballs showing the number of home runs he made in his record season and in his lifetime, is combined with a precision built, time accurate clock.

These magnificent Babe Ruth memento timepieces have been made for a special purpose. THEY ARE NOT FOR SALE IN STORES. But a small production over-run allows us to offer then at manufacturer's cost. This is an unprecedented opportunity to acquire a rare treasure. Write at once. There are very few left.

The ad originally specified "ONLY 117 LEFT" but was altered to indicate a remaining quantity of 94. Whether this was an accurate count of available inventory or just "Get one now, before they're gone!" hype can not be known.

Note the price in the ad was $25.95. That was not cheap in 1949, but digital clocks would have been the latest thing back then. Running the numbers through an internet inflation calculator, I found that $25.95 in 1949 dollars is comparable to about $247 today. In turn, that $247 in 1949 dollars would be the equivalent of about $2,344 today. In the current collector market, a nice working example of the Babe Ruth digital clock sells for $1,500-2,000. 

Notice that the picture in the ad shows a plaque on the front of the clock beneath Ruth's bust and above the digital display. The metal tag reads "Abbottwares," but it is not present on many of the examples seen in the market today.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Natrone stripped uniform, left pro ball

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.  I figure that if I found them interesting, you might too.

In its Sunday, March 31, issue, The Post-Crescent, published in Appleton, Wis., had a typical minor league season preview feature.

There were several features of historical note, back to 1891, when the city was first represented in organized baseball.

One of the stories detailed the short, but memorable career of former Appleton Foxes outfielder Phil Nerone.

Written by sports staffer Mike Woods, the story quoted former team executive Milt Drier and his recollection of Nerone.

"It was at spring training in 1976," said Milt Drier, a former team president of the Foxes, "All of a sudden one day, while he was in the outfield, he took off all his baseball clothes."

The hat hat, the glove, the pants, the shirt, the socks, cleats and the underwear -- ALL his baseball clothes.

"Then he shouted, 'I don't need this baseball stuff anymore,'" said Drier. "'I'm going to Hollywood to be a movie star. Bye, bye.' And that was the end of Phil Nerone.

No wonder his nickname was "Orbit."

I believe, based on Nerone's record at www.baseball-reference.com, that Drier may have hjad the year wrong, as Nerone played the 1976 season with Appleton.

Nerone had been a multi-sport hogh school star in Pittsburgh. The White Sox drafted him in the seventh round in 1972, but he elected to go to school at Miami-Dade College. He signed with Chicago in 1974 when they made his a first-round pick in the June secondary draft.

The White Sox assigned Nerone to Appleton in the Class A Midwest League and he played his entire professional career there in 1975 and 1976. He hit .196 with no power in those two seasons.

Surprisingly, Nerone appears on two baseball cards. He was playing at Appleton when TCMA began to expand its production of minor league team sets. He's in both the 1975 (shown here) and 1976 sets. 

That's fortunate for collectors of oddball ballplayers.

It doesn't look like Nerone made it big in Hollywood . . . I didn't find his name anywhere on the Internet Movie Database website.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Lee Grissom beat manslaughter charge

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 1950 bar fight led to the indictment of former major league pitcher Lee Grissom on charges of manslaughter.

On July 30 at a tavern called The Mint in Los Molinos in Tehama County, Calif., Grissom, who had pitched for the Reds (1934-39), Yankees (1940), Dodgers (1940-41) and Phillies (1941), was drinking with his brother Claude when 27-year-old local truck driver Warren Shermmer entered.

The bartender on duty refused to serve Schermmer because he appeared intoxicated.
According to testimony at a prelimnary hearing, Schermmer then offered to buy a round of drinks for the half dozen other patrons. He greeted Grissom, "Hello, Lee, come on I will buy you a drink," to which Grissom replied, "I know damn well and good you will; I will take it," slapping the bar as he spoke. The bartender turned to get Grissom a drink and as he stood with his back to the two men he heard a sound which he described as that of a blow being struck, though he did not see the blow. He turned and observed that Shermmer was down on the floor on his back; Grissom was trying to get him up, saying "Get up, God damn you, and I will kick your ribs out."
The bartender succeeded in getting Grissom down to the other end of the bar. Grissom then told the bartender to come outside "and he would give me [the bartender] some of it.”

According to the report by Sheriff James N. Froome, Shermmer was struck in the face, fell to the floor and died ten minutes later. The coroner’s autopsy revealed that the death was caused by a cerebral hemorrhage, caused by a blow.

The district attorney charged Grissom with manslaughter and he was arraigned on Aug. 4 before Judge Glenn L. Foster. He was released after posting an $8,000 bond. Brought to trial, Grissom was acquitted of all charges on Jan. 4, 1952.

Grissom’s best year in the majors came in 1937 when he led the National League with five shutouts and was second with 149 strikeouts. He was selected to the N.L. All-Star team. His record that season was 12-17 with a 3.89 ERA.

Grissom had entered the Army in 1942, and did not return to professional baseball upon his discharge in 1946. At the time of the bar fight he was driving truck and working on a ranch in the Paynes Creek area.

He died in 1998 at the age of 90.