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.  

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Jake Powell died as he'd lived, Part I

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.

Alvin “Jake” Powell was a professional ballplayer for two decades (1930-43, 1948), 11 years of that span as a major leaguer. He seems to have carved out that career through gritty, determined play, rather than natural skills.

Rather than spend too much time on Powell's career data, I'll provide a link to his listing at

Off and on during his time as a ballplayer he was a hero to Yankees fans, making timely hits or brilliant plays in the outfield to help capture a pennant or win a World Series.

At other times he was among the most hated players of the day.

Much of the rancor against Powell, especially outside of the baseball world, stemmed from a racist remark he made during a radio interview.

After he had taken batting practice before the July 29, 1938, game at Comiskey Park, Powell was approached in the dugout by Bob Elson of WGN radio and asked to do an interview.

Because the live pre-game show was apparently never recorded, 75 years later it appears Powell’s actual words have been lost to time. Accounts of the incident disagree on the specifics.

Elson is said to have asked the Yankees outfielder what he did in the off-season. Powell was quoted by some sources as replying “I’m a cop, in Dayton, Ohio, during the winter.” Most accounts indicate Elson, in a follow-up question, asked Powell what he did on the police force. While his exact reply may be the subject of conjecture, the gist of it is not.

Dan Daniels, a newspaperman who covered the Yankees for The Sporting News, reported in a front page story of the Aug. 4 issue that Powell said, “I crack niggers on the head.” Ten years later, when revisiting the incident in coverage of Powell’s suicide, TSN quoted Powell as saying, “I spend the off-season clubbing niggers over the head.”

Daniel reported that the radio station immediately cut away from the program and began issuing a series of on-air apologies in an effort to stem the flood of telephoned protests.
When Powell was informed of the furor he had caused, Daniel said the player “expressed regret and asked permission to go on the air to apologize.” It does not appear he was given that opportunity.

Daniel’s article summarized Powell’s “defense” as that “he merely intimated he worked in a neighborhood entirely Negro in population, that he found some of the population tough to handle and, as cops will, had to use his billy.”

On its editorial page on the same issue, TSN espoused this position: “Powell was on the spot and was a victim of circumstances, which should not be held against him by the fans. Other players, in other instances, might offend other groups.

“The remedy, as we see it, is to relieve the players of such assignments. Put them on the radio, assuredly, but under more propitious conditions, where they can do themselves and the game justice, without being forced to run the gauntlet of questions to which they cannot give some thought, and commit further indiscretions, unconsciously.”

Yankees manager Joe McCarthy, Daniel said, “rushed to the defense of Powell and criticized radio stations for bothering players while they were on duty.” McCarthy immediately ordered his players not to go on the air in similar impromptu situations.

Baseball commissioner Kenesaw M. Landis, who was ironically an ardent segregationist, suspended Powell for 10 days, until the Yankees returned from their road trip. There were rumors that he would seek a prohibition against players granting dugout or on-field interviews, or indeed any unscripted broadcasts.

A scholarly review of media coverage of Powell’s radio gaffe, especially in comparing white and black media, was presented in a paper at the 1997 Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture. An anthology of 14 papers presented in that forum was published and lengthy excerpts can be found on the internet.

An interesting sidebar revealed in that paper is that the very few media outlets (all black) that contacted the Dayton police department for comment found that Powell was never employed by that department. Reports disagree as to whether Powell had applied for a job and was turned down, or was offered a job and turned it down to concentrate on baseball.

In December, 1942, The Sporting News reported that Powell, then working an off-season job as a security guard at the Aeroproducts war plant in Dayton, had passed a civil service exam for the Dayton police department, and been placed on a waiting list.

According to the obituary in the Nov. 10, 1948, issue of The Sporting News, Powell’s suicide on Nov. 4, “brought to a close one of the most exciting and tempestuous baseball careers on record. Jake always played the game ‘for keeps’ and often battled for his base hits with his fists or his spikes.”

Among Powell most famous on-field encounters . . .

After he had been traded from the Senators to the Yankees, Powell had a literal run-in with former teammate Joe Kuhel, slamming into the Senators’ first baseman while trying to beat out a single. He exchanged punches with Kuhel, then with several other Senators who leaped off the bench to get in their licks.

When he took his place in left field, Powell was showered with bottles from angry bleacherites. Powell waved off the groundskeepers, picked up the bottles and fired them back at the fans.

A similar play in a game on April 29, 1936, had a devastating effect on Hank Greenberg. The Tigers’ first baseman was waiting for the throw on a “routine play,” when Powell, charging down the first base line, crashed into Greenberg’s outstretched arm, breaking his wrist and putting him out of action for the remainder of the season. Baseball writers of the time didn’t seem so exercised at Powell’s hard-nosed play as by the fact that he never apologized to Greenberg for the collision. He was nothing to apologize for; he had beaten out a base hit.

One of Powell’s epic battles was with Boston player-manager Joe Cronin on Decoration Day, 1938. Red Sox pitcher Archie McKain hit Powell on the knee with a pitch, after twice knocking him down with brush back throws. Powell charged the mound and was intercepted by Cronin. Fists flew around the mound. After both had been ejected, they continued their altercation under the stands.

Powell returned to the Senators in mid-August, 1943, having spent the 1941, 1942 and the first half of 1943 seasons relegated to the minor leagues. When he entered the clubhouse the other players knew that his time in the minors hadn’t mellowed him. He sported a huge black eye, the result of a farewell fist fight with Indianapolis second baseman Eric McNair in his final game with St. Paul.

(Continued tomorrow)

Friday, November 8, 2013

Sidat-Singh was Syracuse's faux "Hindu" star

Watching Olbermann the other night I first heard the story of a remarkable collegiate athlete. He's now became the most recent subject for one of my custom football cards in the style of 1955 Topps All-American.

The player was Wilmeth Sidat-Singh, an African-American whom supporters of Syracuse University athletics -- if not actually the school itself -- attempted to "pass" as a "Hindu" during the racially segregated era of big-time collegiate sports in the late 1930s.

Ernie Davis and Jim Brown notwithstanding, many believe that Sidat-Singh was the finest all-round athlete to wear the orange of Syracuse. 

Upon graduation he hustled to make a living in professional basketball with some of the best barnstorming teams in the pre-integration days of the National Basketball League.

When World War II depleted the ranks of the Washington, D.C. police, he joined the force. After enlisting in the U.S. Army Air Corps, in 1943 he earned his fighter pilot wings with the 332nd Fighter Group -- the Tuskegee Airmen. He died shortly thereafter when the engine failed on his P-40 fighter and crashed into Lake Huron.

There's no reason for me to attempt to present Sidat-Singh's biography here. Instead, let me link you to an article written in 2008 by Dave McKenna at He's provided all you need to know about the former Syracuse star. .

Monday, November 4, 2013

Sobriety, decorum urged on Robinson's fans

I've been reading my microfilm of 1947 issues of The Sporting News, gathering information for this blog and for my custom/fantasy cards.

Obviously there is a lot of content in those issues about Jackie Robinson’s advancement to the major leagues with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

While there is probably nothing there that hasn’t been thoroughly analyzed and anthologized in books and articles over the past half-century, it interests me to read it from contemporary accounts.

One article in the May 21, 1947, issue was quite jarring in its view of black fans. The article was basically a reprint from an editorial in a Pittsburgh newspaper.

The theme of the editorial was that black fans should “(take) this tremendous victory in stride.”

There was a series of exhortations in the form of “challenges” that those fans were urged to meet. 

They included . . .

“The challenge to NOT recognize the appearance of Jackie Robinson as the signal for a Roman holiday, with the Bacchanalian orgy complex!”

“The challenge to stop . . . booing over some untoward incident which might happen on the ball field. Remember that Jackie might be ‘roughed up’ some, because that’s the way they play in the majors . . . for keeps!”

“The challenge to leave whiskey bottles at home or on the shelves of the liquor stores (and to leave) loud talking, obscene language and indecent dress on the outside of the ball parks.”

Surprisingly, this racist stereotyping was published in a “Negro newspaper,” the Pittsburgh Courier, under the by-line of managing editor William G. Nunn.

It was just one of many examples of the black community’s attempts to rein in the demonstration of racial pride so as not to provide “the man” with an excuse to label the baseball breakthrough a failure.