Wednesday, August 28, 2013

"The Hat" fouled 13 in an at-bat

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.

I’m not sure what the current major league record is for number of balls fouled off in an at bat . . . if that’s even an official stat.

But on July 1, 1949, Cincinnati Reds outfielder Harry Walker hit 13 foul balls off St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Ted Wilks in one at-bat that stretched for nearly 10 minutes.

The Reds were ahead 9-2 in the seventh inning, when “The Hat” stepped to the plate. At the time he was batting .261.

After letting a low pitch pass for ball one, Walker fouled off the next two pitches, before looking at a high pitch that was ball two.

He fouled off two more, then stepped back from ball three, a high inside pitch. He then fouled off nine straight pitches before smashing a double high off the screen in right-center field. It was reported that some of Walker’s fouls were hard-hit balls.

Later in the game rookie Lloyd Merriman was brought in to replace Walker in centerfield. The Reds beat the Cards 10-2.

The at-bat might not have taken so long if Walker had not, after every pitch, stepped out of the box, taken off his cap, smoothed back his hair and replaced his cap, according to a contemporary account.

Maybe that's how he got his nickname.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Record Indians crowd spent big on souvenirs

Well on their way to the World Championship, on June 20, 1948, the Cleveland Indians set a new record for major league attendance at Municipal Stadium.

On Father's Day, 82,781 paying customers turned out for a double header with the Philadelphia A's.

The home crowd got its money's worth as the Tribe won both ends. Bob Feller notched a 4-3 victory in the opener and Bob Lemon won the second game 10-0.

Even the A's fans in the crowed had a highlight to cheer. Leading off the first inning of the first game, A's shortstop Eddie Joost hit a home run . . . a long home run. His blow just cleared the foul pole in left field and landed in the upper deck. 

Joost became only the seventh major leaguer to homer into the upper deck, joining Pat Seerey, Rudy York, Ted Williams, George McQuinn, Dale Mitchell and Jeff Heath.

Besides the on-field action, fans that day enjoyed hearing from Bob Hope, who did a stint as guest announcer. Hope was in a jovial mood and why not? As a stockholder in the team, every click of the turnstile was money in his pocket.

Also profiting from the record crowd was Cleveland Concession Company, which enjoyed the largest day in its history with record sales of $41,533.22. 

According to a newspaper account, the fans purchased 70,000 hot dogs and 120,000 bottles of beer and soft drinks.

Baseball memorabilia collectors might be interested to know that the CCC also reported sales of 38,000 programs, 1,293 sketch books and 8,085 "clip pencils bearing player pictures."

Today, in nice condition, that 10-cent program is a $20-40 collectible. The 50-cent sketch book can bring $35-50, and the player pencil clips are about $20-30, depending on player, with Hall of Famers bringing a premium. 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

One Topps typesetter was cap-crazy in 1952

While doing some research for my most recent 1952 Topps-style custom card, I had occasion to read the back of the '52T Chico Carrasquel card.

I had never before noticed how many nouns were capitalized for no apparent reason. Since I don't recall noticing that previously, I have to assume that not all '52T cards were similarly affected.

Note the capital letters on;
  • Record (line 2)
  • League (line 3)
  • Triple (line 4)
  • Play (line 4)
  • Big (line 8)
  • Leaguer (line 8)

Thursday, August 22, 2013

McCarthy's player photos weren't cheap

Back on Aug. 8, my blog posting concerned my recent purchase of hundreds of baseball player photos/negatives that were the work of Detroit-area photographer James D. McCarthy from the late 1950s through the early 1980s.

I mentioned that as I found interesting items during the process of cataloging the pictures, I'd share them with you.

Here's one such subject.

While sorting through the "G" photos, I found two examples that show McCarthy's price structure for prints that he sold to the players.

McCarthy is best known among collectors for the many black-and-white player postcards that have made their way into the market over the past 50+ years. These are postcards that the players would purchase from McCarthy to send to fans who had requested pictures or autographs.

But McCarthy also produced color photos for the players, presumably to be given family and friends, hung on their walls, etc.

I recently found two McCarthy photos that detail his pricing structure to the players for those prints; one is from 1963, the other from 1978.

The 1963 price list is on the back of a 4" x 5" proof of Jesse Gonder with the Cincinnati Reds. Baseball card collectors of the 1960s may remember Gonder as a back-up catcher for the Mets (1963-65), Braves (1965) and Pirates (1966-67). 

His major league career actually began in 1960-61 with the Yankees (too bad there weren't any Yankees photos of Gonder in McCarthy's archive). He was with the Reds in 1962-63 and made his Topps baseball card debut as a bug-sized portrait on one of the '63 4-on-1 Rookie Stars cards.

Rubber-stamped on the back of the Gonder photo is a price list that shows:

  • 5 x 7     $5
  • 8 x 10   $10
  • 11 x 14 $20

Jump ahead to 1978, and we find an updated price list on the back of another Reds photo, that of Mike Grace. That list offers photos as follows:

  • 8 x 10         $10
  • (5) 8 x 10s  $25
  • 11 x 14       $25
  • 16 x 20       $45
  • (100) 4 x 5 $50

Maybe it's just me, but those print prices seem high for 35-50 years ago. Then again, the players wouldn't have paid McCarthy for the actual work of taking their pictures, so maybe it all evened out.

You probably never heard of this Mike Grace, apparently no relation to the Mike Grace who pitched for the Phillies 1995-99.

The Reds' Mike Grace was an infielder whose major league career consisted of five games with Cincinnati at the start of the 1978 season, when he was just 21. He was hitless in three at-bats, striking out twice. When the minor league season started, Grace was sent down to Indianapolis.

Grace had been a second-round pick in the 1974 amateur draft and began his pro career at age 18 with Billings in the Rookie-level Pioneer level. He advanced to Class A Tampa in 1975 and Class AA Trois-Rivieres in 1976.

Except for his cup of coffee with Cincinnati in 1978, he spent the 1977-80 seasons at AAA Indianapolis.
Apparently released by the Reds after 1980, he played three more seasons in the Southern League with Atlanta and Houston farm clubs.

Mike Grace,spring training 1978.
Usually a third baseman, but also playing some at second, short and in the outfield, Grace never his better than .274 and had a cumulative minor league mark of .243, averaging just 5.2 home runs a season.

But his presence in the McCarthy archives, as a good-looking young prospect at spring training in 1978, is an example of why I find that collection so interesting as a card collector and baseball historian. Without J.D. McCarthy I don't think we'd have a picture of Mike Grace as a major league ballplayer. Actually, we have two; there was a second pose in the collection.

While Grace never appeared on a major league baseball card, he was included in several minor league issues during his playing days. While I doubt that I'll ever find time to make a Mike Grace custom card, it's good to know that because of J.D. McCarthy, I could.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Waitkus won workman's comp case in shooting

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 shooting of Roy Hobbs in a hotel room by a female fan is a key plot point in The Natural.
Many fans of post-war baseball know the incident had a real-life precedent when, on June 14, 1948, Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Eddie Waitkus was seriously wounded by a “deranged girl” (it says so on the back of his 1955 Bowman card) in a Chicago hotel room.
Waitkus recovered and was able to resume his major league career the following year.
Few fans, however, know that Waitkus won a worker’s compensation claim for the shooting.
Waitkus, seeking $4,000 and medical expenses, claimed that when he answered the shooter’s cryptic note to meet her in her hotel room, he was acting in the interests of Phillies public relations.
If that was the case, the Phillies’ insurer, Travelers Insurance Company, countered, then Waitkus was in violation of his contract, which called for him to have the team’s permission to make personal appearances for the club.
The Pennsylvania State Workmen’s Compensation Bureau ruled in the player’s favor on March 9, 1949, awarding Waitkus $3,500 and his medical expenses.

I saw a note in a later edition of the paper that indicated that the Hall of Fame asked Waitkus for the near-fatal bullet. I didn’t find any record of whether the museum received the bullet.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Yes, it's another Browns fantasy card

I guess I can't help myself. My latest custom/fantasy card is yet another St. Louis Browns player.

Of the 14 custom cards I've created in 1951-53 Bowman, Topps and Red Man formats, fully half of them have been Brownies.

Part of the reason for that it that I'm a big Satchel Paige fan, and he has been the subject of three of my seven Browns cards.

I also confess that since childhood, I have been taken with the Brownie logo that Topps used on its 1953 St. Louis American Leaguers' cards. When I found a great old photo showing a player with that patch prominently displayed on his sleeve, I decided to create my own 1953 Topps-style Browns card.

A major factor in doing so is that the player was once a Milwaukee Brave. Jim Pisoni appears with the Braves (OK, it's actually an A's photo retouched to give him a Braves cap) in the 1959 Topps set.

When the Pisoni card showed up in packs of 1959 Topps, I was completely unfamiliar with the name and face. Actually, by the time Pisoni's '59 cards were issued, he was gone from the Braves. Milwaukee had taken him in the December, 1958, Rule 5 draft, but he hadn't been able to crack the team's all-black A-B-C outfield (Aaron, Bruton, Covington), and he had been returned to the Yankees. 

Still, I retain fond memories of finding a surprise Braves card in 1959, so when I found a picture of him online as a St. Louis Brown, I figured he was worth a weekend of work to create a custom card.

Pisoni was only a St. Louis Browns player for three games. He appeared in the franchise's last three games, Sept. 25-27 at home against the White Sox. They were the team's 98th, 99th and 100th losses of the season.

In his three games with the Browns, Pisoni had batted just .083, striking out five times in 12 at-bats. His lone hit, though, was a home run on Sept. 26 against Connie Johnson. 

Pisoni's first time up in the bigs was notable only for the fact that he was the last rookie to make his major league debut with the St. Louis Browns. He never got up with the Orioles after the team moved to Baltimore for 1954. He spent the 1954-55 seasons with San Antonio and did well enough to earn a trade to Kansas City late in the 1956 season. That, in turn, earned him a 1957 Topps baseball card in the season-ending high numbers series. The 1957 and 1959 cards were Pisoni's only major card appearances.

Pisoni got month-long major league gigs in 1957 with the A's, and in 1959 and 1960 with the Yankees.

Collectors familiar with the 1953 Topps set might recognize the background I used for my custom as that of Browns first baseman Gordon Goldsberry. I did make some modifications, however, adding a second deck to the grandstand and an outfield wall.

I have another 1953 Topps-style "card that never was" on the drawing board, but it'll be a Boston Brave, not a Brown. 

Friday, August 16, 2013

'Honest John' stole second . . . with bases loaded

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 Aug. 3, 1949, issue of The Sporting News was awash with news, photos and commentary of a “bonehead” play by Larry Doby that may have cost the Cleveland Indians the July 20 game against the Yankees.

Unbidden by his manager or third base coach, Doby attempted to steal home plate with his team down four runs, the bases loaded, nobody out and pitcher Joe Page getting wild with two balls on the batter, Bob Kennedy. Doby was fined $50 for his initiative.

Coincidentally, towards the back of that issue, appeared the obituary of John Anderson, who had died July 23 at the age of 75.

Because he rarely argued with umpires he was known as “Honest John.” One contemporary umpire said Anderson could make an umpire second-guess his calls.  “Whenever ‘Honest John’ protested a strike, an umpire later would remark: ‘Maybe I missed that strike, for John wouldn’t have protested otherwise.’”

Anderson was born in Norway in 1873 and emigrated to Worcester, Mass., with his parents in 1878. He became the first major league player to have born in Norway.

He played his first pro ball with Haverhill of the New England League in 1894 and was batting .354 when he was purchased by Brooklyn of the National League and finished the season with them.

Anderson played with Brooklyn, mostly at first base, until he was sold to Milwaukee in the American League for 1900. He moved with the franchise to St. Louis in 1902. In 1904 he joined the New York Highlanders, played with Washington 1905-07, then ended his major league days with the White Sox in 1908.

In 1909 he played for Providence of the Eastern League, then retired.

After spending five years as a policeman in Worcester, he became a coach for Buffalo in the International League.

Anderson had earned a spot on what a TSN editor in Doby’s case had dubbed the “Rockhead Roll of Fame,” by attempting to steal second base while the bases were loaded. That came in a 1905 game when he was with the Senators.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Vintage Fox photo shows 1960 Topps card

Back on Aug. 4 I presented by 1952 Topps-style custom card of Nellie Fox.

That reminded me of a photo that I have had in my archives for quite a few years.

It is a 1960 press photo showing Nellie Fox at spring training signing an autograph for a young fan. The photo clearly shows that Fox is signing his 1960 Topps card. 

Photos of players with their cards, especially from 50+ years ago, aren't seen very often. I thought you might enjoy seeing it.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

I'm (temporarily) curator of the J.D. McCarthy archives

From the late 1950s through the early 1980s,
Detroit-area photographer J.D. McCarthy (right)
created images of more than a thousand ballplayers for their
use on postcards to answer fan mail. He's shown
here at spring training in the 1960s with Al Downing.

For the past couple of years I've been actively working on disposing of the sports cards, memorabilia and collectibles that I accumulated during my tenure (1980-2005) as editor and publisher of the sports collectibles periodicals and books at Krause Publications (Sports Collector Digest, Baseball Cards Magazine, Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards, etc.)

I keep pulling boxes out of the basement (some of which haven't been opened for 20 years or more), sorting through them -- which is a lot of fun in itself -- selling off what I think has value and throwing out what the realities of today's hobby market now deem worthless.

At the pace I'm going, I really think my "stuff" will outlive me.

So it makes no sense that I recently made a major addition to my holdings.

Followers of this blog know that one of my principal activities in retirement is the making of "cards that never were," custom or fantasy cards in the formats of the classic baseball and football cards I loved as a kid.

Two of my recent creations were 1965 and 1966 Topps-style cards of ill-fated California Angels pitcher Dick Wantz (see my blog from April 24 and May 2). The photo for those cards came through the courtesy of Keith Olbermann, who has a private stash of vintage Topps photos.

Many of my other custom cards use photos that I've purchased or "borrowed" from the Topps Vault auctions that have been ongoing on eBay for a number of years. 

One day it occurred to me that Topps wasn't the only source for vintage baseball players photos.

I remembered that back in the late 1980s or early 1990s, I engineered the purchase by Krause Publications of a huge portion of the photo files of J.D. McCarthy of Oak Park, Mich. 

Following McCarthy's death, a collecting colleague from the Detroit area, Red Wimmer, approached me on behalf of McCarthy's family, offering to sell the pictures.

From the late-1950s through at least the early 1980s, McCarthy was one of the premier providers of photos and postcards to baseball (and to a much lesser degree, football and hockey) players for their use in answering fan requests for pictures and autographs. 

By the time McCarthy's archives were offered to me, they had been cherry-picked by several collectors. Most of the Hall of Famers and regionally popular stars were gone, and certain teams had been pulled en masse. For instance, in the material we purchased there are virtually no Detroit Tigers, Minnesota Twins, San Francisco Giants, St. Louis Cardinals or Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves.

I don't remember how much we paid for what we bought, but back when the sportscard hobby was in its heyday, money was no object at Krause. I thought we'd get a lot of use out of the pictures in articles in SCD and the other magazines.

I was wrong. I don't think the files in which the pictures were housed were accessed more than a dozen times in the 20+ years we had them. 

Whatever KP paid for the resource, I paid a whole lot less when I purchased them earlier this summer. I made an admittedly lowball offer based on my recollection of the hoard. I figured there'd be a lot of great photos there that I could use in making my custom cards. 

It turns out that on a per piece basis, I made a really great deal. In the back of my mind I was thinking that there was about 400 different players represented. I was way off. I'm only done cataloging the collection alphabetically from A-F and I'm already up to 225+ players.

And I had forgotten that for more than half of the players, there are more than one image -- there's frequently three to five different poses and sometimes as many as a dozen.

At the time KP bought the pictures, an editorial assistant placed each player's images in an envelope with his name and team or teams noted.

A typical player's envelope will contain one or more black-and-white and/or color 2" x 2" negatives and an accompanying photo print or proof. As you can see from the picture here of the contents of Ernie Fazio's envelope, many of the pictures have notations penned on them indicating picture or postcard ordering information. A few envelopes have examples of the postcards that McCarthy produced from his photos.

One of the principal reason I wanted to acquire the pictures is that McCarthy had hundreds of photos of players in major league uniforms that never actually played in the bigs. Many of his photos were shot at spring training when prospects were up with the big club before being returned to the minors or hanging up their spikes. Evidently these players felt that having McCarthy take their pictures was a sign that they were on their way to a major league career.

Naturally, given the era in which McCarthy accomplished the bulk of his work, many of these players never had a baseball card. In some cases I plan to remedy that with a fantasy card that is my vision for what their cards might have looked like.

I'm having a ball going through this baseball history trove. I'm creating a spread sheet with each player, his team, the probably year the image was taken and whether the pictures are color or black-and-white.

When that work is done, and I've finished scanning those images that I have a reasonable expectation of someday using in my custom card work, I'll sell my McCarthy holdings.

Throughout the process, I expect I'll take the opportunity to share with you some of what I find.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Nellie Fox featured on '52 Topps-style custom

Nellie Fox was a perennial All-Star and a fan (and collector) favorite. He parlayed modest baseball playing skills into a Hall of Fame career.

Topps was never able to get Fox's signature on a baseball card contract until 1956, after Bowman was out of the picture. He'd debuted with a rookie card in 1951 Bowman and was in each year's set through 1955. His 1953, 1954 and 1955 Bowman cards were some of my childhood favorites.

Fox was also in each year's Red Man tobacco set from 1952-55; fitting since he was often photographed with a large wad of chew in his cheek. He was also seen in such early 1950s issues as Berk Ross, Dixie ice cream lids and premiums and 1954 Red Heart dog food and Wilson's wieners.

If you've been following my blog, you know my custom card making has recently included a pair of 1952 Topps cards "that never were." I've extended that streak with my recent creation of a 1952 Topps-style Nellie Fox card.

The impetus for jumping a '52 Fox to the top of my to-do list was the discovery on-line of a really appealing 1951 portrait photo of Fox. I knew it would look good in the '52 format.

I decided to make my Fox custom with the "plain" color background that Topps used on a few of its cards back in 1952. One of my favorite '52s was such a card, Dale Coogan.

For some reason the color purple came to me as the right choice for the background of Fox's haloed portrait.

That's really about all there is to say about my 1952 Topps-style Nellie Fox custom. I think I can safely predict that this will not be my last Nellie Fox creation.