Thursday, January 30, 2014

-New customs: 1954-55 Topps Bobby Thomson

Some time ago I found on the internet a great portrait photo of Bobby Thomson as a Milwaukee Brave. It may be the work of renowned Sport magazine photographer Ozzie Sweet.

The picture reminded me so strongly on the 1954 Topps Andy Pafko card, that I knew a similar effort, right down to the pale blue background color, would be my next custom card project.

Assembling the other card-front elements was not too daunting, and the card came together nicely. The black-and-white action photo you may recall having seen on Thomson 1957 Topps card. The autograph was found on one of the Spic-and-Span Braves picture issues of the mid-1950s.

As is usually the case with my 1954 Topps customs, I re-purposed the cartoons from other players' original cards.

With the 1954-style card in hand, I decided to recycle the elements and make a 1955-style as well, because you can never have enough 1954 and 1955 "Topps" cards, especially of Milwaukee Braves.

While researching Thomson for my cards, I realized for the first time that "The Flying Scot" did not have a Topps or Bowman card in 1953.

Thomson had appeared in Bowman's inaugural baseball card set in 1948, and was in each succeeding year's set -- except 1953 -- through the last Bowman issue in 1955.
It's easy to see where I got the
inspiration for my 1954-style custom.

After appearing in the 1952 Topps high-number series, Thomson was not seen on a Topps card until 1956, then continued with them through his last year in the major leagues, 1960.

Topps belatedly issued a 1953-style card of Thomson as part of the 1991 Topps Archives issue.

Thomson did appear in one national card set in 1953, the Red Man tobacco card issue; he was also in the 1952 set.

I can't speculate why both Topps and Bowman omitted Thomson in 1953. He had played the full season in 1952 and 1953 with the Giants before being traded to the Braves in 1954.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Was Ruth's "Called Shot" ball discovered?

Baseball memorabilia collectors weren’t so hung up on airtight provenance 65+ years ago, so there’s no telling now whether a baseball claimed in a 1947 Sporting News article  to be Babe Ruth’s “Called Shot” home run ball was in fact the real McCoy.

I’m not sure whether or how many such putative balls exist in collections today, but for what it might be worth to collectors and researchers, I’ll reprint verbatim the article that ran in the Aug. 27, TSN under the headline “Ruth Homer-Ball Returns to Aid Babe’s Foundation”.

Chicago, Ill.—A ball, claimed to be the one on which Babe Ruth called his home run shot off Charley Root in the World’s Series of 1932, is to be auctioned for the benefit of the Babe Ruth Foundation, Inc. It was discovered after a long search by Fred Downer, distributor of the Pittsburgh Courier in Chicago and a former mascot in Georgia who chased balls for Ty Cobb.
            Following a ten-year search for the ball through Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, Downer learned, through an unexpected source, it was in the possession of a T.J. Alexander of Dayton, Mich. While on a fishing trip in Michigan, Downer chanced upon Alexander and during a general conversation on sports gained from him the statement he was the proud possessor of the ball hit by Ruth and inveigled him to part with the souvenir.
            Downer kept the ball for six years, but, on learning the Babe Ruth Foundation had been organized and that proceeds would be used to aid unfortunate children, decided to auction the souvenir to help the cause.

My reading of Sporting News issues through the remainder of 1947 did not turn up any further details. Thus, whether the ball was actually auctioned, how much it realized and who purchased it is unknown to me.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Showcasing another custom card creator

This custom was created in the style of 1971 Topps
Greatest Moments.

I recently exchanged some emails and images with a fellow custom card creator.

I enjoyed his work and thought you might, too, so I'm sharing it here.

Marcel specializes in baseball and boxing custom cards, as well as creating generic cards that collectors can use for autographs.

There's not a lot for me to say, so I'll just step back and present images of some of his work.

Marcel offers his creations to collectors. You can e-mail him at  . 

Marcel has created some boxing cards in the styles of 1948 Leaf  (top)
and 1951 Topps Ringside.
Generic autograph cards allow the collector to get a
signature on an attractive format.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Dizzy Dean's one-game, $1, comeback

I've known for many years that Dizzy Dean, nearly six years after his Hall of Fame career as a National League pitcher had ended, made a one-game return to the majors.

However, I had never stumbled across the details of that anomaly until I read microfilm of the 1947 issues of The Sporting News.

There I learned of Dean's appearance for the St. Louis Browns in the final game of the 1947 season, Sept. 28 in Sportsman's Park hosting the Chicago White Sox. He was 37 years old.
Dean had often said during his daily play-by-play broadcasts for the Browns that he could do better than the current crop of American League pitchers. “Gosh folks,” he was quoted, “I haven’t pitched baseball since 1941, but I feel sure I could go out there today and do better than a lot of these throwers who are drawing big salaries as major league pitchers.”

He signed a $1 contract to make his “comeback” legal; at the time he was making a reported $25,000 a year broadcasting the Browns’ games. Vern Stephens, one of the Browns players, told his hometown paper in a post-season interview that it was his understanding that Dean had also received a cut of the gate receipts.

When the Browns returned from their final road trip of the season Diz worked out with the club, pitched batting practice and announced he was ready.

Attendance had sunk as low as 315 fans near the end of what would be the Browns’ 95-59 season. The normal turnout for a season-ending home finale might have been 2,500 or so. However with Dean as the draw, the turnstiles clicked and 15,916 St. Louis fans, many of them no doubt holdovers from Dean’s glory days with Gashouse Gang Cardinals, were on hand. It was the Brownies third-highest paid attendance of the 1947 season.

Dean took the mound wearing number 31, rather than the number 17 jersey he had worn for the Cardinals. Outfielder Paul Lehner wore number 17 for the Browns.

Dean pitched four innings, holding the Chicago White Sox scoreless and allowing only three hits. He had no strikeouts and issued one walk. He faced 14 batters and used only 39 pitches to complete his four-inning stint.

In his only at-bat, he swung at the first pitch and singled. Trying to reach second base on a grounder, he slid into the bag but came up limping, having pulled a muscle. He left the game, tipping his cap to the cheering crowd and thanking his mates for their fine fielding; they had played flawless defense behind him, turning two double plays. In his at-bat he wielded a specially made “barber pole” bat with red striping, made for him by the Southwest Manufacturing Co.

Dean was relieved on the mound by Glen Moulder, who shouldered the 5-2 loss. Ed Lopat pitched the complete-game victory for the White Sox.

Manager Muddy Ruel had not approved of the Browns president Richard Muckerman and general manager William O. Dewitt signing Dean. After watching his performance on the mound that day, however, he graciously applauded Dean.

Dean always swore he would never return to the minors after his major league career was over, but he unwittingly found himself technically in the minors for a few days after his one-day “comeback.” 

He could not be given his unconditional release after that game because under major league rules, waivers for that purpose were not permitted after Sept. 25, three days before Dean went to the pitcher’s mound for the final game of the 1947 season. The Browns had to release him outright to their Toledo farm in the American Association. The Mud Hens, in turn, obtained the necessary Association waivers to make him a free agent.

Actually, Dean broke his vow two years later, when he appeared with the Clovis Pioneers in the Class C West Texas-New Mexico League. In 1949 Diz co-owned the team with his brother Paul, who was manager.

On "Dizzy Dean Night," July 8, Diz hit a pinch-hit single in the bottom of the eighth inning to help the Pioneers to a 7-2 victory over Lubbock. Dean also coached on the bases and did some announcing during the game.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Two more "Fuzzy" custom cards

If you'll go back to my blog posting of two years ago (Jan. 27, 2012), you'll see why I have an interest in creating custom cards of Green Bay Packers great Fuzzy Thurston.

My post of Jan 24, 2012, presents the 1955 All-American card I made of Thurston, while my post of Jan. 21, 2012, details my frustration with being unable to make a 1958 Topps-style custom of Thurston with the Baltimore Colts.

The recent sale of several photos of Thurston from the Topps Vault has allowed me to finally create that '58 Colts card . . . along with a 1960-style custom that "predates" Thurston's actual Topps rookie card by two years.

Actually, my '58 Colts card required a bit of creative license on my part, the original photo showed Thurston in a Packers uniform, but when cropped to the format of the '58s, I was easily able to colorize the jersey to Baltimore blue.

I believe the completion of these two new custom cards will satisfy my desire to enhance Thurston's football card legacy.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Gehrig left only modest estate

At his death in 1941, Gehrig left only 
a modest estate to his wife Eleanor.

While reading the April 12, 1945, issue of The Sporting News, I found a paragraph about the estate of the late Lou Gehrig, who had died June 2, 1941.
            I was struck by the relatively modest figure that was given--$159,475.
            The article said this was Gehrig’s “net estate” in an estate tax appraisal done a week earlier.
            The article didn’t explain what comprised a “net estate,” but I assume that’s what was left after taxes.
            It was reported, ‘The estate included mortgages, cash and insurance of $128,085 and stocks and bonds valued at $28,662.”
            Certainly $160K was not chump change in 1945; today it would be the equivalent of about $2,450,000. But considering that Gehrig was one of the highest paid players on his time, what he left behind seems—I’ll say it again—modest.
            Gehrig’s will provided that a trust fund be set up to provide $205 per month to his parents, Mrs. and Mrs. Lou G. Gehrig; the residue went to his widow Eleanor. Upon Eleanor’s passing, any estate remainder would have gone to her mother, Mrs. Nellie Twitchell. I doubt Mrs. Twitchell ever became a beneficiary, as Eleanor Gehrig lived to the age of 80, dying on her birthday, March 6, 1984.
            I find it interesting that today, many of the geegaws that decorated the mantel or hung in the closet of Gehrig’s apartment have collectible value that exceeds that of his entire estate in 1941.

            For instance, a 1927-28 Yankees jersey worn by Gehrig just sold in a Heritage auction for $717,000.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

My take on a 1956 Topps-style Musial

As I mentioned in my entry of Jan. 14, I'm planning to add a few Stan Musial cards to my repertoire.

When FOX sports screwed me out of the Steelers-Browns game on Dec. 29, I decided to begin work on a '56. Here's what I came up with.

If you ever collected 1956 Topps cards, you might recognize the background of my custom as originally appearing on Rip Repulski's card. I decided to flip the image horizontally for a more aesthetically pleasing (at least to me) composition.

The portrait is something I found on the internet and colorized. 

The backs of 1956-style cards are always a challenge. I try to find cartoons on original '56s that match the career highlights I've chosen. The cartoons I used on my Musial are from the cards of Wilmer Mizell (center), Glen Gorbous (right) and Don Blasingame (left).

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

American ballplayers caught in 1950 Venezuela police riot

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.

Diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Venezuela are chilly these days, but they have been worse in the past.

One ugly instance in 1950 is an example.

An article by Beaumont sportswriter Bill Spurlock in the Dec. 13, 1950 issue of The Sporting News reported that 15 American ballplayers who were playing winter ball in the four-team Venezuela League during the 1950-51 season, “took a severe punching and shoving around from native police following the assassination of Provisional President Colonel Carlos Delgado Chalbaud in the Venezuelan capital city on November 13.”

Spurlock reported, “the players were first given a good going-over at their hotel and later caught more licks at police headquarters. None were seriously hurt during the frightening incident, though three suffered cuts, one was slugged with a pistol butt and all received numerous bumps and bruises.

The players who were involved, with two exceptions, had just finished their seasons in the Texas League two weeks earlier. They were identified as: Ford Garrison, Clarence Beers, Harry Schaeffer, Charlie Glock, Zeke Melignano, (Beaumont), Jimmie Dyck, Frank Mancusco, Danny Baich (San Antonio), Eddie Knoblauch (Tulsa), Charles Haag (St. Petersburg), Clem Labine (St. Paul), Wally Fiala (Montreal), Mike Lemish, Bob Bundy, Bill McCahan (Ft. Worth). 

All were staying at the Hotel Savoy in Caracas.

Zeke Melignano, whom The Sporting News described as a “bespectacled righthander” with the Vargas club, provided a first-hand account.

The president of Venezuela was assassinated about 10 o’clock in the morning of November 13, and immediately the government declared a 5 p.m. curfew, when everyone had to be off the streets. There were to be no public gatherings or group talking.
About 4:45 p.m. that afternoon the majority of the players were in their rooms, though there were one or two eating the hotel café. Garrison and Dyck were nearing the hotel with some vegetables and groceries in their arms which they were taking to the café ro have cooked.
I was shaving in my room when I heard someone banging on the door and trying to get in. I kept quiet and motioned to my wife to keep quiet. They left and in a few minutes I opened the door and saw Schaeffer. We placed our wives in a room and told them to lock the door and started to walk down the stairway from the third floor. We met a policeman near the stairway and he motioned us on with his machete. We went on down to the lobby and found the police had rounded up all the players. The cops pushed us into the group and we were all piled into three big trucks as we were punched, shoved and hurried along with the flat-side of ugly-looking machetes. I got some terrific whacks as I scrambled aboard the truck. Brother, I was scared.
We were raced at breakneck speed to the police station, where we had to run a gauntlet of police with more pushing, punching, threatening and machete swinging. We were lined up in a big room and it was here that Bundy saw a police captain that he had met at the ball park. Bundy acted as spokesman with the police official and with signs and the few Spanish words he knew identified us as ball players.
            There was a short conference and after we were searched and signed our names to a sheet of paper, we herded into a truck and taken back to the hotel, where we found our wives nearly hysterical.

Melignano said that 11 of the players’ wives were wintering in Venezuela with their husbands and that Haag’s nine-year-old son and Fiala’s infant daughter were also there. “The women were not molested in the least, though they were frightened,” Melignano said.

Melignano reported that several of the players showed the police their passports and said “Me Americano,” but that only brought another whack and did not good. “None of us could talk Spanish,” he continued, “and there we were being pushed around and there was nothing we could do about it, and we didn’t know what for.  In fact it would probably have been dangerous to protest too strenuously. We did not strike a single blow.”

What precipitated the police brutality? According to Spurlock, it was a rumor.

Spurlock wrote, “A story reached Caracas police that some foreigners were in the Hotel Savoy celebrating the slaying of their president. Shouts of ‘Down with the tyrant’ and ‘Let’s have a drink to the death of the tyrant’ were said to have been heard in front of the hotel.. Three trucks loaded with police swept down on the hotel without the slightest warning.”

As an afterthought, Spurlock mentioned in his article, “Three or four other Americans who lived at the hotel and several natives were also manhandled by the coppers, who wielded the flat side of machetes like home-run sluggers at bat.”

According to Melignano, the most serious injuries to the players included Baich (cuts to his back and left arm), Glock (slash on the arm), Haag (badly bruised right arm) and Bundy (hit in the face with a gun butt).

The day after their release, the battered ballplayers appeared at the American Embassy to protest their treatment. Attaches there were already aware of the incident and said they were making an investigation. Apologies came from the police, who admitted they had been acting on rumors.

On Nov. 15, Venezuela League officials came to the hotel with apologies. The following day, as the players were preparing to leave the country, the presidents of the teams met with the players and offered them $500 apiece to stay on and forget the incident.

With the country under martial law, league play did not resume until Nov. 23.

“I don’t know who remained in Caracas,” Melignano said upon his return on Nov. 18. “I understand some of the fellows did.” A week later, Melignano went to work for a Beaumont haberdashery. “No sir, no more winter ball for me where the cops swing sticks and knives and then ask questions,” Melignano said.

Among the brutalized players who remained in Venezuela were Frank Mancuso, who was leading the league in batting at about .414 when the death of his brother and illness of his mother caused him to return to the U.S. late in the season. Clem Labine and Mike Lemish hung in with the Magallanes club that won the pennant. Also mentioned in game accounts after the incident was Ford Garrison.

Apparently the incident didn’t prevent other American minor league players from going to Venezuela to replace those who left and to join the Cerveceria Caracas team, which for the first time in its history began to use non-Venezuelan players in a futile chase for the flag.

Not mentioned in the accounts of the police riot were the black Americans who were playing in the country. Absent specific mention, I draw the conclusion that the Negro League players and a few black minor leaguers performing in the Venezuela League were, as in the U.S. at the time, precluded from staying in the same hotel as white players.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Stan Musial added to my '53 customs

Because Stan Musial declined to appear on most of the principal national bubblegum card sets of the 1950s, when he was at the peak of his popularity, if not performance, custom card makers have been attempting to fill those gaps (1954-55 Bowman, 1951-58 Topps) for more than a decade.

Being a Milwaukee Braves backer in that era, I was never The Man's biggest fan, though I respected his skills on the field and his persona outside the white lines. That admiration only increased from the 1980s until the time of his death a year ago, as he exemplified the image of one of the all-time greatest growing old with dignity. 

Musial has been among the cards most frequently requested by collectors who follow my custom card creations. For a number of years I've been setting aside photos that suggest to me they might be used to create Topps and Bowman format cards from the "missing" years.

A recent very cold, very snowy Wisconsin winter weekend seemed like the right time to create my first Musial custom. The result is the 1953 Topps-style card presented here.

Do you recognize the components used for the card front? The portrait is that used on the 1954 Red Heart dog food Musial card. It offers the suitable artwork look of the original '53T. The background of my card is from the 1953 Topps Cloyd Boyer card, flipped horizontally for a more pleasing composition.

My Musial card bears one of the "missing" numbers from the original Topps set.

I don't envision creating a full run of the Musial cards that Topps and Bowman omitted from their sets in the Fifties. Some of the other custom card guys have their own versions of many of the Musials "that never were, and Topps has gone retro to create some of them; they had a 1954 style card in their 2007 set issued for the National Convention, and in their 2011 set of "missing" cards they had 1953, 1955 and 1956 versions.

More Musials will be forthcoming as time permits and the mood strikes. I'm nearly finished with a 1956 and you can definitely count on a 1958; a 1957 is probable, as is a 1955 Bowman.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Draft officials equated ballplayers with "freak-show operators"

Despite a punctured ear drum, high
blood pressure and a heart ailment,
Ron Northey's 4-F draft status was
revoked towards the end of WWII.
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.

At the start of 1945, the U.S. War Department took a renewed interest in the draft status of professional athletes.

This was partially in response to agitation for citizens who wondered how a fellow who had been deemed unfit for military service could be desporting himself on the ball diamond or the gridiron.

Having suffered significant losses in Europe at the end of 1944 as U.S. forces met stiff resistance on their drive into Germany, and facing the reality that the impending invasion of Japan could rack up tens of thousands more casualties, replacement troops were at a premium.

Thus in early 1945, it was ordered that all rejections of 4-F professional athletes by local draft boards had to be reviewed by the office of the Adjutant General in Washington,D.C. The directive was retroactive and would eventually result in many major and minor league ballplayers being reclassified and inducted into the armed services.

In its Feb. 1, 1945, edition, The Sporting News printed excerpts from the War Department’s order:

            1. Attention has been directed to the fact that many registrants who are deferred as physically or mentally disqualified for military service or who have been discharged from the armed forces for physical or mental reasons are, despite their apparent physical defect, engaged in the principal occupation of professional athletes.
            2.In the case of any such registrant where it is indicated by his participation in professional athletics that he may be physically or mentally qualified for military service, the local boards should review his classification. If upon review . . . the local board finds that such registrant is physically and mentally qualified for service in the armed forces, it shall reopen his classification and, unless he qualifies for a deferred classification, shall classify him anew as available for service.

The first major leaguer to be caught in the draft under the new guidelines was Phillies outfielder Ron Northey.

The slugging outfielder with the rifle arm had twice been rejected for military service during the 1944 season because of a punctured eardrum. On Dec. 20, 1944, he was recalled for examination. After four days of medical exams he was informed that he was 4-F due to high blood pressure and a heart ailment.

Less than a month later, without a notice of reclassification, he was ordered to report for induction. He applied for naval service but was rejected because of his punctured eardrum.

With the war ended, Northey was discharged near the end of 1945 and returned to the Phillies for the 1946 season.

Like many ballplayers during World War II, Northey had an off-season job doing essential war work; in his case, on the waterfront.

Professional athletes were included on the list of occupations considered “less essential” by the War Manpower Commission.

That list also included, according to a St. Louis draft official who provided it to TSN: “Taxicab drivers, insurance salesmen, bootblacks, bellhops, elevator operators, reds, floral clerks grocery clerks, department store clerks, department store truck drivers, all retail counter salesmen, hotel room clerks, meter readers, poolroom and bowling alley workers, pinball machine and other amusement device workers, maintenance and otherwise, soda, hamburger-stand, restaurant and dining-room employes, doormen (and) freak-show operators.”

According to the War Department, “All men engaged in these occupations should transfer to war work immediately.”

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Third '55AA multi-player custom card honors Texas trio

Collectors of vintage football cards know that among the original 100 cards in Topps 1955 All-American college football set there was one multi-player card, the short-printed Four Horsemen of Notre Dame, which is the most expensive card in the set.

I've recently completed the third multi-player card in my on-going "updating" of the Topps classic. (My first two were "The Three Stooges" and "Mr. Outside and Mr. Inside," which featured Army's 1940s "touchdown twins" Felix Blanchard and Glenn Davis. 

It's called "Texas QB Trio" and features the three Longhorn quarterbacks of 1947, Hall of Famers Bobby Layne and Paul Campbell.

Layne and Landry, of course, had lengthy pro football careers. While Campbell was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in 1948, he never played professionally.

Actually, I'm at a loss to tell you what Paul Campbell did post-UT. His name is so common that even combining it with such keywords as "Texas" and "quarterback," I was unsuccessful in googling up anything about him. How the starting QB of the 7-3-1 1947 Longhorns and 41-28 winner of the Orange Bowl versus Georgia can remain so obscure is a mystery to me.   

When I found the black-and-white photo of the Texas tossers I originally intended to only use the Tom Landry portion for a single-player AA card. However, since Landry was principally a fullback, defensive back and punter at Texas, making a card of him as a quarterback didn't seem quite right. That's when the idea was formed to make a card with all three players.

The day will probably come when I do make a solo Landry card, and of course I made a Bobby Layne card a number of years ago. But I like the concept and finished product of my "Texas QB Trio" card.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Sleater wrote his ticket back to bigs

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.

Persistence—and perhaps penmanship—seems to have earned Lou Sleater his chance in the major leagues after six seasons pitching in the minors.

Sleater was acquired by the St. Louis Browns on waivers from the N.Y. Giant after spring training in 1950. He had a 12-5 record with San Antonio, the Browns' Texas League affiliate, in 1950. 

After having pitched a single inning for St. Louis in 1950, Sleater was with the Browns from late April through July in 1951, working himself to a 1-9 record before being sent out on loan to the Yankees' Kansas City farm club in the American Association for the remainder of 1951, winning four and losing two.

To make sure that Browns owner Bill Veeck didn’t forget him, Sleater kept up a constant correspondence between K.C. and St. Louis.

Before the 1952 season got under way, Veeck described how Sleater had kept in touch. “Realizing that I was greatly interested in his pitching,” Veeck said, “Lou wrote me a letter after every game he pitched, telling me just how he fared, what he did right and what he did wrong. He also enclosed clippings from the daily newspapers to back him up.

“Even when he lost, which was seldom, Sleater wrote me. Believe me, that boy was interested in his work and wanted to make sure that I was, too. And, incidentally, I was—and if he doesn’t make the grade with our club, I’ll be terribly disappointed.” 

As it turned out, Sleater did return to the majors with Veeck’s Browns in 1952, but only for four games (0-1 record) before being traded to the Washington Senators.

While with Washington, Sleater was the pitcher that halted Walt Dropo's record-setting streak of 12 hits in 12 consecutive at-bats. In relief, he gave up Dropo's third hit of the second game of a July 15 doubleheader, a double in the fifth inning, before inducing him to foul out to the catcher in the seventh.

Though Sleater was 4-2 for the Senators in 1952, he spent the entire 1953 and 1954 seasons in the minors.

He returned to the majors in 1955 with Kansas City, spent 1956 with the Braves, went to the Tigers in 1957 and split 1958 with Detroit and the Orioles before leaving pro ball.

Despite pitching in all or parts of seven seasons in the major leagues 1950-58, Sleater only had three career-contemporary mainstream baseball cards, 1952-53 Topps with the Senators and 1958 as a Tiger.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

1956 Topps-style Bart Starr custom card

One of my childhood favorite football card issues was 1956 Topps. I'm always looking for an opportunity to replicate that format in my custom card creations.

The recent discovery on eBay of an early photo of Starr with the Packers gave me the impetus to create a custom '56-style card. It's my take on what Topps might have done if they had done a rookie-year card for the future Hall of Famer.

Because of the small size of their football card sets in the 1950s, Topps was not real aggressive in putting untried rookies on its checklists in that era. 

This is my second Bart Starr custom card. Some years back I created an All-American style card of Starr as an Alabama quarterback. Actually I did two such cards. My first utilized a full-length posed action photo that I was not entirely satisfied with. I late replaced that picture with a portrait pose. 

My 1956-style Starr card is the third I have done in that design. My earlier efforts were Johnny Unitas and Max McGee.

I'll be on the lookout for contemporary photos that I can develop into other '56 customs.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Cameron Mitchell's one-game pro career

Cameron Mitchell as Uncle Buck Cannon on
The High Chaparral, 1967-71.
While he attained fame and fortune as an actor on stage, screen and television, Cameron Mitchell always believed he could have made a career in professional baseball.

He did well enough in high school in the mid-1930s that he attracted the attention of major league scouts. One biographer said that Mitchell kept an unsigned minor league contract from the Detroit Tigers’ organization throughout his life.

In Hollywood during the 1940s he was active in charity benefit games and other amateur outings.

On Aug. 18, 1947, Mitchell pitched for the Hollywood Stars against the Los Angeles Angels in an exhibition game to benefit the Damon Runyon Cancer Fund. He pitched four innings of shutout ball against the Pacific Coast League leaders. Hollywood won 4-3.

(Another feature of the benefit game was a celebrity home run hitting contest won by Burt Lancaster; Jack Dempsey, Henry Fonda and Leo Durocher also participated.)

Shortly thereafter, Mitchell signed an Organized Baseball contract with the Las Vegas Wranglers of the Class C Sunset League.

On August 31, in the second game of a Sunday doubleheader at Ontario (Calif.), Mitchell made his professional debut. It proved to be his only game in pro ball.

He was staked to a five-run lead when he took the mound in the bottom of the first inning. What was described as his “slow side-arm curves” proved to be nothing more than batting practice for the Orioles.

Lasting only 2/3 of an inning, he gave up 11 runs on six hits and three walks (striking out one) and was tabbed with the loss in an 18-10 defeat.

The actor had been slated to make another start, in Reno, but after his knockout in Ontario, the Wranglers’ general manager said, “We have decided against it.”

Mitchell claimed that he once singled off Satchell Paige . . . then was picked off first base. He said the encounter came in 1935, when he would have been about 17 years old.

"That man had the fastest ball I've ever seen," Mitchell was quoted. "He'd wind up, lazy like, and that ball just smoked toward the plate -- or first base."

Mitchell is best remembered today for his role as Uncle Buck Cannon on the popular Western television series, The High Chaparral, which aired 1967-71. You can find the rest of his Hollywood story here: .

I spent a good deal of time searching internet photo sites in vain looking for a picture of Mitchell in a baseball uniform. Since he was already an accomplished Hollywood actor in 1947, you'd think there has to exist somewhere a photo of him with the Las Vegas team.

Finally, I don't know what the connection might be, but it doesn't seem like it is coincidental that one of the couples on the current TV comedy Modern Family has the first names of Cameron (Tucker) and Mitchell (Pritchett).