Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Steve Young added to my '55 All-American customs

Sometimes I add a card to my 1955 Topps-style All-American customs set for no other reason than I find a great picture of the player.

That was the case with the Steve Young card i put together over the weekend.

There's certainly nothing new I can tell you about Steve Young, so without further ado I'll present the card.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Werber blasted Rickey for Robinson signing

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 signing of Jackie Robinson to a Montreal contract in 1945 created, as every baseball historian knows, a furor. 

By and large, however, the ballplayers themselves kept their opinions out of the public press. Having hung up his spikes three years earlier, however, former major league infielder Bill Werber, then selling insurance in Washington, D.C., felt no such compunction and rose in defense of the honor of Southern ballplayers.

In a letter to Dodgers owner Branch Rickey, Werber reproved Rickey’s son, who was in charge of Brooklyn’s minor league farm system, for a comment he was reported to have made in answer to a suggestion that some Southern players might quit the Dodgers' organization over Robinson’s signing. 

Rickey. Jr., was quoted as saying, “If they come from certain sections in the South, they may steer away from a team with colored players. But they’ll be back in baseball after a year or two in the cotton mills.”

In his letter to the senior Rickey, Werber called that statement “a definite insult to every southern boy.”

Werber wrote, “A large segment of the ball players who have in the past, and who are presently contributing to the continued success of major league baseball, are of southern ancestry, or actually live in the South.” (In fact, a survey of big league rosters at the start of the 1945 season showed that about 27% had been born below the Mason-Dixon line.)

“Your effort to force them to accept socially and to play with a Negro or Negroes, is highly distasteful,” Werber continued. “You are, in fact, for some unaccountable reason, discriminating against the majority.”

Werber added, “the attitude that your son has assumed is certainly not conducive to the morale of your own organization, nor to baseball in general.” 

Werber was born in Berwyn , Md., and attended college at Duke before turning to pro ball in 1930. He played very briefly with the Yankees in 1930 and 1933. He was sold to the Red Sox in 1933 and traded to the Athletics after the 1936 season. Prior to the 1939 season he was sold to the Cincinnati Reds, who sold him to the Giants after the 1941 season. 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Creating a couple of custom Kiner cards

The recent coverage of the death of Hall of Fame slugger Ralph Kiner got me to thinking about his baseball card legacy.

During the late 1940s and early 1950s, Kiner was one of baseball's biggest stars, despite playing much of his career for second-division teams. For much of his time in major league livery, he was the highest paid player in the National League. You don't need me to tell you about Kiner's career; you can find that information all over the internet.

So it's no wonder that Kiner appeared not only on contemporary Bowman and Topps cards, but also on numerous contemporary national (Leaf, Berk Ross, Red Man, Red Heart, Wheaties, etc.), regional and team-issued sets. 

Kiner was in every Bowman baseball card set between 1948-1955 except for 1951. He appeared in the Topps Red Back and Major League All-Stars sets in 1951, and was in the 1953 set.

I don't recall ever hearing Kiner call a game as a Mets broadcaster, but I think he's the type of radio guy I would have enjoyed listening to. 

I have read a great deal about Kiner's early years in my perusal of microfilm back issues of The Sporting News. He seems to have been popular with the editors.

Reflecting on the paucity of contemporary Topps cards of Ralph Kiner, I spent some time over the past couple of weekends doing my best to fill in those gaps.

It's my tribute to a guy who was by most accounts not only a dominant ballplayer, but a good man.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Discovery set worthy of memorializing

If I was still involved in the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards, this is an issue that I surely would have incorporated into the listings.

Since it's unknown whether either Krause or Beckett will pick up on this eBay listing for their big catalogs, I figured I'd record it here for hobby posterity. Besides, its a 1950s Milwaukee Braves issue, so it's right in the wheelhouse of my card interest.

While doing the research for my recent 1955 Johnny Logan custom card (see the entry for Feb. 7), I found the Logan card from this set listed on eBay.

Digging a bit deeper, I found the seller was also offering cards of Lou Burdette and Harvey Kuenn from the same issue.

These cards appear to have been issued in the 1950s by the West Allis State Bank. Then, as now, West Allis was a Milwaukee suburb adjacent to County Stadium.That explains the appearance of the two Braves in the set. Kuenn was evidently included because he was a native of West Allis. While he was managing the Brewers in their glory years he maintained a tavern and home there.

Besides the white facsimile autograph on the front of each card, there is this attribution: Courtesy of / WEST ALLIS / STATE BANK / on the triangle MEMBER F.D.I.C.

There are few clues as to period of issue. The uniform worn by Kuenn was current between the time of his debut with the Tigers in 1952 through the 1959 season. Burdette's sleeve patch is that worn between the team's arrival in Milwaukee in 1953 and prior to the adoption of the "screaming Brave" in 1957. The photo of Logan offers no clue.

It's not known whether any other players were included in the set, nor is the method of distribution readily apparent. My best guess is that the cards were made available at the bank in conjunction with autograph appearances by the pictured players.

The cards themselves are about 7-1/2" x 9" on what the seller describes as "thick glossy stock." They are blank-backed.

Since I'd never seen these cards in 35+ years of collecting and cataloging vintage cards, I assume they are rare. Whether they are rare enough to actually find a buyer at the listed prices remains to be seen. The seller is asking $495 each for Logan and Burdette and $395 for Kuenn, describing the cards as Fair to Good in condition. Besides the three singles, it looks like he has at least one more example of each, offering a set of three for $1,195.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

My '52 Logan custom fills gum companies' void

Back of Jan. 7, I shared here my 1955 Topps-style custom card of Johnny Logan. Today, I've got my take on a "rookie" card that could have been made a year earlier than Logan's actual baseball card debut.

I can't blame Topps and Bowman for not including Johnny Logan in their 1952 baseball card issues.

Despite the fact that Logan had been the Boston Braves' opening day shortstop in 1951, he'd spent most of the season at AAA Milwaukee (his fourth year with the Braves' American Association farm team). He appeared in only 62 games with the big club, batting just .219 with no power. 

Logan started the 1952 season in Milwaukee. Shortly after Charlie Grimm took over from Tommy Holmes as Boston manager, he called Logan up to Boston to replace Jack Cusick, who was hitting only .159. Logan had been part of Grimm's pennant winning Brewers team in 1951. Besides batting .301, Logan had smashed the American Association record for errorless games at shortstop, his streak of 46 more than doubling the previous mark.

Logan ended the season with a .283 average, second only on the team to Sid Gordon's .289 (which helps explain why the Braves finished seventh in the N.L. that year). 

In 1953, it was back to Milwaukee for Logan, but this time as a major leaguer. He remained with the Braves until mid-1961 when he was traded to the Pirates, ending his major league career with Pittsburgh in 1963.

Logan went to Japan for 1964, where he played for the Nankai Hawks, becoming the first ballplayer to win a World Series (Milwaukee, 1957) and a Japan Series. He died last year in Milwaukee.

Topps created Logan's rookie card for its 1953 issue. He continued to appear for Topps every year through 1963, except, inexplicably, 1955 (see my blog entry of Feb. 7). Bowman included Logan in its 1954 and 1955 sets.

My 1952-style Johnny Logan card fills the void left by Topps and Bowman. Photos of Logan in a Boston Braves uniform are not as ubiquitous as those with Milwaukee. Thanks to former SCD editor Tom Mortenson for providing the picture I colorized for use on my card.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

62-year-old Street repeated ball drop stunt

Note the Washington Monument
in the background of Street's
1911 Turkey Red cabinet card.
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.

Many fans and collectors know that while a catcher with the Washington Senators in 1908 Charles “Gabby” Street caught a baseball dropped from the top of the Washington Monument.

He revived memories of that stunt May 23, 1945, when he caught two of three balls dropped from the Civil Court Building in St. Louis as part of a war bond rally.

At the time, the 62-year-old Street was a radio commentator for the St. Louis Browns. The baseballs were dropped 300 feet from the courthouse by Street’s broadcasting partner Harry Caray.

An account of the feat in the May 31 issue of The Sporting News didn’t mention the first drop, which presumably Street caught. The paper reported that the second ball bounced, glancing off Street’s head, but causing no injury.

Street caught the third ball, which was sold in a war bond auction to Street’s radio sponsor, the Griesedieck Brewery, for $300,000 in war bonds. Auctioning off “various baseball articles” generated more than $100,000 in war bond sales.

 Attendance prizes to bond buyers included five shares of Browns’ stock and a lifetime subscription to The Sporting News.

This 1945 photo shows Street (right) with his broadcasting partner
and accomplice in the St. Louisball drop, Harry Caray. Notice
the framed baseball cards, including T206 and Colgan's Chips,
on the wall at upper-left.

Friday, February 7, 2014

My custom adds Logan to '55 Topps

In recent weeks I've been in contact with Mike Rodell, a mainstay with the Milwaukee card club that has been putting on shows in a church basement there since the 1970s.

Mike is a dedicated collector of both Braves and Brewers cards, and in recent years has been active with the Braves alumni association.

While we were discussing my recent creations of 1954 and 1955 Topps-style Bobby Thomson cards, he mentioned that Johnny Logan had, for unknown reasons, not been included in the 1955 Topps set.

No doubt the omission was occasioned by the bubblegum card wars between Topps and Bowman.

Logan had made his baseball card debut with Topps in 1953 (along with Johnston Cookies and Spic & Span). He was with both Topps and Bowman in 1954 and was exclusive with Bowman for 1955. He was in every Topps set from 1956-63, his last year in the majors.

As is often the case, as soon as I considered the possibilities for a 1955 Topps-style Johnny Logan, an image popped into my mind of what it would look like. 

I knew I'd be going with the red background; Topps used all of its background colors (red, yellow, green, blue) on Braves cards in 1955, so I had my choice. 

Finding the right portrait photo took a bit of time. I usually try to use a picture that wasn't seen on career-contemporary cards, but colorizing a couple of the pictures I found didn't go well. I then tried the portrait from the 1953 Johnston cookies card, but ultimately I decided to go with the portrait from Logan's 1956 Topps card.  Actually, I used a mirror image of the portrait to facilitate its use on the left end of the card.

The action picture was originally used on the 1955 Johnston's cookie card.

One of the things I enjoy most about my custom card creative process is that I learn a lot about ballplayers and ball cards as I research the biography and stats that will appear on the back. 

In a couple of phone conversations with Mike I learned a lot about Logan's life in Milwaukee after baseball. I learned a lot more from an article by Bob Buege in the SABR BioProject at: Johnny Logan bio .

I also discovered that Bowman erred in creating the stats box on the back of Logan's 1955 Bowman. The gum company credited Logan with 209 hits in 1954. He actually had 154 hits. 
That mistake was carried forward to the lifetime stats column which reads 542 on the card, but was in reality 487. 

Figuring his batting average on the basis of 542 hits, Bowman gave him a lifetime mark of .302, when it should have been .271. Surprisingly, the batting average cited for 1954 is correct at .275.

I couldn't find a reasonable explanation for Bowman giving Logan 209 hits for 1954. Nobody in the majors had 209 hits in 1954. Logan was tied with Joe Adcock at 154 for second place on the Braves; Billy Bruton led with 161.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Rogovin jailed for too many walks

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.

On Nov. 17, 1947, while pitching in the Venezuela winter league, Saul Rogovin was thrown in jail for issuing too many bases on balls.

Rogovin claimed that he had told the manager of his Venezuela club that he had a sore arm and could not pitch, but was ordered to take the mound anyway.

Rogovin walked the first four batters to face him and then was thrown out of the game for arguing with the umpire. The team’s owner, Oscar Yanes, accused the pitcher of not trying to throw strikes and had four policemen escort Rogovin off the field and to the Caracas jail. His team lost the game 6-5.

After spending the night in jail, Rogovin was released with no charges being pressed, after the team’s directors overruled Yanes.

Rogovin then went to the mound and defeated the Cerveceria club 10-6, eventually running his record to four straight wins while tying another. He pitched four of his last-place team’s first five victories.

At the time, Rogovin was property of the Buffalo Bisons of the International League, for whom he had a 3-4 season in 1947. After going 29-13 at Bueffo in 1948-49, he  made the big leagues with the Tigers (1949-51), White Sox (1951-53), Orioles (1955) and Phillies (1955-57). He had a major league career mark of 48-48 with a 4.06 ERA.

Among the future major leaguers whom Rogovin faced during that 1947-48 Venezuela winter ball season were Don Newcombe, Roy Campella (who managed the Vargas team), Joe Black, Max Surkont and Luke Easter.

* * *

I never noticed this before, but Rogovin is pictured on his 1954 Bowman card as a Cincinnati Redleg, though he never pitched for them.

The White Sox traded him to Cincinnati in December, 1953. He pitched the entire 1954 season with Havana in the International League (8-8, 3.71 ERA) and was dealt to the Phillies in December, 1954.

Monday, February 3, 2014

My 1936 Diamond Stars Satchel Paige custom takes a few liberties

Followers of my custom card creations will realize that my latest project represents my fourth Satchel Paige card. Previously I've created 1951 and 1952 Bowman formatted cards and a 1952 Topps-style.

The current card is my take on a 1936 Diamond Stars card picturing Paige as a member of the Pittsburgh Crawfords of the Negro National League.

Several years ago I found the photo that is the basis for this card on the internet. It pictures Satch in a nighttime ballpark setting. I thought that photo could be readily converted to the "look" of the 1934-36 Diamond Stars series.

There were no cards of Negro Leagues players in the original Diamond Stars, of course. But in my world of fantasy baseball cards I didn't feel bound by such a constraint.

Another liberty I took with my card is the attribution of Paige's write-up on back to W. Rollo Wilson, who was at the time the baseball writer for the Pittsburgh Courier, the city's leading Negro newspaper. Many of the backs on the original Diamond Stars cards were credited to Austen Lake of the Boston American.

You can be assured that this won't be my last Satchel Paige custom card. I have a well-formed plan for one more and the possibility of another beyond that looms.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Borrowed press pin landed manager's job

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.

Back in the early 1980s when I first became involved in the baseball card and memorabilia hobby on a professional basis, among of the more popular non-card collectibles were World Series press pins.

They were small, and thus readily displayed, colorful and not all that expensive if you limited your acquisitions to post-war models.

Sadly, an influx of creditable Chinese fakes around the turn of the century largely put the mockers on press pins as a viable collectible for the average hobbyist.

To be sure, press pins have cash value today, but I recently read an account in an old issue of The Sporting News that detailed how a press pin came to be worth tens of thousands of dollars to Zack Taylor.

Taylor had been a coach for the Pittsburgh Pirates during the 1947 season, When Bill Meyers was hired to replace Billy Herman at the end of the year, Taylor was let out by the Bucs.

As part of his job search, he attended the World Series games in New York to rub elbows with owners and general managers. In his “from the RUHL BOOK” column in the Nov. 19 issue of TSN, Oscar Ruhl reported how the loan of a press pin helped Taylor get a new job.

“Zack Taylor credits his new job as manager of the Browns to the luck of a button—a World’s Series press pin,” Ruhl wrote.

“Or at least he is crediting much of his success in landing the post to a small lapel button of the kind which are issued to sports writers and club officials at the annual classics.

“Realizing he needed this credential to gain admittance to restricted quarters to make the contacts for a job . . . Taylor appealed to a Pittsburgh sports editor, Al Abrams of the Post-Gazette, telling him the loan of the button ‘may help me get a job.’

:Zack used the button two successive nights and, returning the pin, told Abrams: ‘I think something will come out of this. I can’t tell you now whom I was talking to, but you’ll hear about it later.’

“A day after his appointment as Brownie manager, Taylor wrote to Abrams: ‘I want to let you know that I will always remember how nice you were to me in New York during the World Series.”

Taylor managed the Browns through the 1951 season, never finishing higher than sixth place in the American League.

Ruhl’s column didn’t specify whether it was Yankees or the Dodgers press pin that gave Taylor the access he needed to land his first big league managerial job. Value of either (genuine) today seems to be in the ballpark of $600-750

. Of course you can get a fake for much less.