Saturday, August 30, 2014

Custom cards update 1954-55 World on Wheels

Yesterday I told you how a chance encounter with a stack of World on Wheels cards is a used book store rekindled my interest in card collecting.

On Aug. 13 I reported on the first of what is going to be an on-going custom/fantasy card project to create non-sports "cards that never were" from classic 1950s and 1960s Topps (and other) series.

Today I'm presenting the first of what I anticipate will be more than a handful of cards I'll be making in the format of Topps 1954-55 World on Wheels.

I may have mentioned it on the blog in some of my 800+ postings since 2009, but for one year of my 31+ years at Krause Publications, I served as executive editor of the Old Cars division. From Sept., 1978-Sept., 1979, I was editor of Old Cars Weekly newspaper, the Old Cars Price Guide magazine and the start-up monthly newsstand magazine Car Exchange.

Because I've always been a car guy, I look back on that year as the best of my time at Krause. 

Sports cars and luxury imports were never my thing. (I did have a Thing, actually three of them; 1974 Volkswagen Things.) I was more interested in vintage vehicles from Model T and other brass-era autos to late-1940s woodies, virtually everything made in the 1950s and the muscle cars of the mid- to late-1960s.
For most of the years between 1971-2001 my daily driver was a succession of 10-year-old Cadillacs.

Having neither the money nor the mechanical aptitude to seriously pursue old cars as a hobby, my interest was mostly voyeuristic. Today I could afford to indulge myself with a few pieces of old iron, but I'm too stove up to get in and out of bucket seats, to operate a stick shift or crawl under a car to change oil. And I'm a believer that if I can't drive a car, there's no use owning it.

I'd make an exception, though, for the car I chose as the subject for my first World on Wheels customs. 

I first encountered the 1956 Buick Centurian dream car in the spring of 1979 while on a backstage tour of the Sloan Museum in Flint, Mich. Press junkets like that were one of the big reasons my year at Old Cars is so fondly remembered.

The rocket-inspired Buick dream car is widely covered all over the internet, so I won't detail it here. If you're like me, I don't have to explain the attraction of a sporty silhouette, bubble top, fins, chrome and expanses of mid-century color scheme fiberglass. If you don't "get it" at first glance, nothing I can say here will sway you.

In keeping with Topps' original card set, I created my custom WoW cards in both a red-back and blue-back version. While Topps used the same pictures for both red- and blue-backs of its high-number (161-180) series, I decided to splurge on two views of the Centurian.

I could make a new WoW custom every week for a year and never run out of ideas that don't stray too far from Topps' original concept. However, I want to do some more TV Westerns and I've got plans to dabble in a few other favorite non-sports issues from my childhood; not to mention my on-going efforts in the fields of baseball and football custom cards. So, I'll probably limit my car cards to just a handful for the time being.

Watch this space in the coming months and you'll see them first.

A pair of 1968-style Reggie customs

I can see why Topps didn't include Reggie Jackson in its 1968 baseball card set.

He'd had only two years of professional ball under his belt and his two gigs with the 1967 Kansas City A's had been underwhelming. Jackson had been called up from Birmingham on June 9 and played in 26 games batting .189 without demonstrating any of the speed and power that had caused Charley Finley to pay him a reported $75,000-85,000 signing bonus as the No. 2 overall pick in the June, 1966, major league draft.

Jackson was sent back down to Birmingham in the first week of July, probably to bolster the A's Class AA team in the Southern League pennant race. Birmingham won the title by 3-1/2 games and then defeated Albuquerque four games to two in the one-year revival of the Dixie Series between the Southern League and Texas League champions.

Jackson returned to Kansas City on Sept. 15, with the A's in last place, 24 games in back of the American League leading Red Sox. In nine games he hit just .143, bringing his rookie season average down to .178. 

On Sept. 17, Jackson hit the first of his 563 major league home runs. It was a solo shot off of the California Angels' Jim Weaver . . . that is if you trust the data on over Jackson's own recollection. According to Reggie's official website, he remembers that first home run as coming off of Cleveland Indians pitcher John O'Donoghue, though both sources agree on the date.

I also noted a slight discrepancy concerning the car Jackson bought after his signed his first A's contract. Some internet sources claim that the car was part of his signing bonus; on his site Jackson says he bought the car. Jackson describes the car on his website: "Oooh, I almost forgot my 1st new car with my signing. A 'typical me' car. 1967 Pontiac Catalina, with a 421cu. inch 375 hp engine, a 2dr really cool ride, a 4spd transmission, Burgundy with a black vinyl top and of course an aftermarket 4 track stereo." 

Before starting work on my 1968 Topps-style Reggie Jackson custom, I kicked around some concepts for a 1967-style card. Two problems ultimately killed the notion, one practical, one conceptual.

On the pragmatic side, I haven't yet found a decent photo of Jackson in a Kansas City uniform. I messed around with adding a "KC" cap logo to an Oakland photo, and came up with a serviceable image. As I worked, though, it became increasingly apparent that a '67 Jackson card would be too much of an anachronism. While he'd a good debut pro season in A-ball in 1966, he really wouldn't have been a candidate for a 1967 Topps card. And I generally prefer to create "cards that never were" in the formats of cards that might have been.

With two decent late 1960s photos of Jackson to work with, I took the easy way out and used both. Thus you see two '68-style Reggie Jackson custom cards here.

These bring to five the total number of Reggie Jackson custom cards I've created. The 1977-style Orioles card shown here was the first custom baseball card I ever made, after months of working solely on 1955-style All-American football cards. The two 1976-style Orioles cards came soon thereafter.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Chance encounter with World on Wheels cards changed my life

If you read my blog on Aug. 13 you know that I have now added the creation of non-sports cards to my efforts in the custom card field.

And if you saw the blog on Aug. 23, you know that my next non-sports customs are going to be in the format of the 1954-55 Topps World on Wheels.

Today, I'll tell you why I've been working on WoW cards; tomorrow I'll show you the results.

World on Wheels cards are the reason I got back into card collecting in the late-1970s after having taken the usual teenage hiatus a decade earlier.

I had been an avid collector of bubblegum cards -- baseball, football and non-sports -- from 1954 through 1962. My earliest childhood card memory is opening a nickel pack of 1954 Topps baseball that my grandfather bought for me when we were out gallivanting in his 1950 DeSoto.

My last specific childhood card memory is of trading Civil War News cards in the boy's bathroom in fifth grade. Our dealings in those cards had to be carried out in the can because the nuns couldn't appreciate the historical educational values of the cards, choosing instead to focus on the impalements, sharks and flying, mangled bodies.

For a few years thereafter I'd usually buy one pack of each year's new baseball and football cards just to see what they looked like, but my card collecting days were behind me.

That all changed one day in a used book store on Wisconsin Avenue in downtown Milwaukee.

About once a year beginning in the mid- to late-Sixties, my oldest brother Jim (five years my senior) would find a reason to make the one-hour drive from our home in Fond du Lac to Milwaukee. Sometimes it was to go to the State Fair, sometimes to pick up a car part, etc. I always tried to get an invite to ride along.

Besides whatever the principal reason for the trip was, two stops were traditional; one for lunch at Leon's drive-in and the other to browse one or both of the Schroeder's used book stores downtown. (Googling Schroeder's today, I see they are still in business in the Milwaukee area.)

Add caption
The day after Christmas 1972, I moved out of the family home and started my journalism career in a small Central Wisconsin town an hour away. That pretty much ended my trips to Milwaukee with Jim, but for some reason we were able to get together for one last jaunt circa 1977-78.

With a belly full of frozen custard and an armload of used book bargains I was waiting to check out at Schroeder's when I spotted a stack of cards sitting on the ledge of the cash register. 

I immediately recognized them as World on Wheels cards, as I had numbered a few of them among my collection as a kid. I asked the clerk if the cards were for sale and at what price.
They were 20 cents each and I peeled off four or five dollars and bought the whole stack.

With that purchase I was back in the world of card collecting. A friend in the coin collecting hobby introduced me to Sports Collectors Digest in 1978 and by late 1980 I had convinced Krause Publications to introduce the national newsstand magazine Baseball Cards. The course of my life was thus set for the next 30 years.

Through the pages of SCD and visits to card shows to promote the new magazine, I eventually completed a set of World on Wheels cards. Along the way I discovered that there had been a scarce high-number (#161-180) series of WoW cards and that they came in both red and blue backs. I still have that set (in nice Ex-Mt. condition) and it has proved invaluable in my efforts to supplement the original Topps issue with some latter-day additions.

Come back tomorrow to have a look at the first of what I expect will be several World on Wheels custom cards.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

"Nig" Grabowski's heroism went beyond baseball

Grabowski was given a "day" at Yankee Stadium
in 1927 in recognition of his role in filling in for
injured starting catcher Benny Bengough.
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.

            Having a major league career of any kind, especially in the pre-expansion days of 16 teams, should be notable enough as a lifetime achievement. Johnny Grabowski played seven seasons in the American League (White Sox 1924-26, Yankees 1927-29, Tigers 1931) as a backup catcher. But he’s better remembered – when he’s remembered at all – for his tragic death.

            Grabowski died as the result of a fire that destroyed his home in Guilderland, N.Y., May 19, 1946. He died a hero at the age of 46.
            The former major league player and minor league umpire died in an Albany hospital of burns suffered when he carried his wife from the blaze and was attempting to back his car out of the garage. His wife suffered burns to the face, neck, ears, back, hands and feet. She recovered.

            Grabowski, of Ware, Mass., turned pro at the age of 21, playing in 1921 with Minneapolis and Saskatoon, with St. Joseph in 1922 and with Minneapolis in 1923-24.
            He was traded to the White Sox on July 6, 1924, then was traded to the Yankees in January, 1927.
            He played for New York through 1929. He was sent to St. Paul in 1930, returned to the American League with Detroit in 1931 and released to Montreal in 1932. He played there through the 1933 season.
            Grabowski retired as a player in 1934 and by midseason 1935 was umpiring in the Class AAA International League. He umpired in the Eastern League in 1938-40, then returned to the I.L. in 1941-42.
            After retiring from pro ball he worked as a toolmaker in Schenectady and was active in the semi-pro ball scene there.

Johnny Grabowski didn't appear on any career-contemporary
baseball cards. However, as a member of the 1927 Yankees,
he was included on several collectors' issues of the 1970s-
1990s such as the 1975 TCMA set (left) and the 1990
Conlon Collection (right).

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Toga-clad scientist seen on bond certificate

In my blog of Aug. 7, I presented a collection of stock and bond certificates that feature a male allegorical figure that I call the near-naked scientist.

Since that presentation I have found only one additional example, shown here.

Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Co., 1967
This is the only example of Security-Columbian's toga-clad scientist that I've seen on a large-format (about 15-1/4" x 22-1/4") bond certificate. The bond is in the amount of $5,000, payable in 35 years with interest at an annual rate of 4-5/8%. The male figure holds in telephone handset in his right hand, with a length of phone cord in his right. At his right is an early piece of phone equipment. There are a number of other telephone-related vignettes in the upper and lower corners.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Custom card type tech tip

At least once a month I get an email from a prospective custom card creator seeking advice on my process.

I'm always happy to help any way I can, but it is not possible for me to lay out in detail the nuts and bolts that take me from a concept to a finished card in hand.

I have been developing my system auto-didactically for more than 10 years. It wouldn't be practical to try to impart it in a few thousand words.

A recent experience in one aspect of card creation strikes me, however, as perfect fodder for a "lesson."

As you may have read in my Aug. 13 entry, I have recently begun branching out from baseball and football cards to non-sports. I've created three TV Westerns customs (and will be making more) and am now working on my first World on Wheels cards based on the Topps 1954-55 set.

I find that I never really get to know a vintage card format until I begin to recreate it. 

While I had some World on Wheels cards as a kind, and built a complete set in the 1980s, it never registered on me that Topps used three different type style for the principal identification of the 180 cards in the set. The antique vehicles were identified with a vintage-looking outline font. The contemporary vehicles were identified with a modern 3D font. Many of the "miscellaneous" vehicles were identified with a mid-century type face.

I'm often asked how I match the fonts on my customs to original vintage cards. I have no other answer than "trial and error." All of what I'm about to say pertains to the Photoshop Elements graphics program I use. Other programs may require different approaches.

I begin by scanning an original card and magnifying the area of type I want to replicate. Then I use the type tool to enter the same words, even though I will be changing them further along in the process.

Then I begin cycling through the 200 or so fonts I have in my Windows system (I really have to pare that down some day as there are many, many that I know I'll never use). I almost always find an identical match, or something that is close enough that only a really knowledgeable graphics artist is likely to notice the difference.

By that rather labor-intensive process, I soon found that the misc. vehicles in the set were identified with a font called Balloon XBd BT. Similarly the modernistic font used on newer cars was Umbra Bt.

I was stymied, however, by the type face found on the antique vehicle cards. It looked so familiar and I was sure I'd quickly find it in my Windows font folder. No such luck. After looking at nearly every font, I'd come up empty.

My next move was to check the free fonts web sites: and There are other free-font web sites out there, but I've found that if the font I need isn't on one of these, it's not likely to be on the other sites, either.

Despite being categorized by style, the fonts on these sites run into the thousands and finding a match can be a needle-in-a-haystack proposition. I spent several hours on these sites without a match. Without knowing the font's name, further searching seemed doomed to failure.

Next I turned to a site that I'd had little experience with, . That site takes you through a number of multiple-choice questions about various aspects of the letters and numerals of the font you are looking to identify. The questions ask such things as "Serif or Sans Serif?" "What style of tail does the letter Q have?" "Is the 4 open or closed?"

As you answer each question, half a dozen possibilities pop up on the side. Eventually, after 12-15 questions, there was my font: Vineta. I checked the free fonts sites again, but Vineta was not there. The identifont site offered places on the net where the font could be purchased for $30-40 dollars, but I went to bed without pulling the trigger.

Before I drifted off, it occurred to me that I should do a google search along the lines of "font like Vineta". I'm not the type to hop out of bed to do such things, but the next morning, with just a few clicks, I had found a free version of Vineta and downloaded it into my fonts folder.

Illustrated  here are a couple of the format sheets that I keep in a binder for my custom card work. They are a permanent reference to recreating type. Referring to the World on Wheels sheet, you'll notice that on the subheads for the top card I have a notation of "139% h." This indicates that while I'd use either 9 or 7-1/2 point Calibri Bold for those elements, I'll want to stretch the type 139% horizontally. I've found that on more than a few Topps, Bowman, etc., cards of the 1950s-60s, the makers stretched the words to some extent. I find out what percentage to stretch by again typing over the existing words and using the Elements program to stretch it to match.

One more word about the "free fonts." While many of them are truly free for personal use, others have a button to click to make a donation to the font's creator. Since I have real respect for artists like that who can do something I can't, I suggest a $5 or $10 tip for the time you'll be saving and the effect the right font will have on your finished custom cards.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Photos evoke minor league time travel

The other day I grabbed my box camera, stepped into my Wayback Machine, set the dial for 1920, hopped in a Model T Ford and drove out to catch a ball game in Chickasha, Oklahoma between the Chicks and Ft. Smith.

Actually that's just the feeling I get when I look at a group of four photos that I dug out of one of my old files. They appear to be fan's snapshots of members of the Chicks in the Class D Western Association. I'm guessing the pictures were taken at the Chickasha ballpark, but they might have been shot at any of the circuit's other venues around Oklahoma, Arkansas and Illinois.

I bought the pix about 10 years ago, planning to do a feature in SCD. Now I'll share them with you.

To me the most interesting photo is that of Mose Poolaw. 

Edward Moses Poolaw wasn't too long out of the World War I U.S. Army when he played with Chickasha. It appears to have been his first engagement in Organized Baseball, though in 1917, while a student at the U.S. Indian Industrial Training School at Lawrence, Kans., he had played professionally with the Nebraska Indians barnstorming team.

Poolaw was a full-blooded Kiowa, born on the Anadarko Agency in southwestern Oklahoma in 1894.

He played his entire career in the Western Association between 1920-26, starting as an infielder-outfielder then switching to pitching. He played for Chickasha in 1920-21, when the league was designated Class D. When the circuit earned a Class C rank for 1922, Poolow was with Joplin. He joined Bartlesville/Ardmore for 1924. In 1925 he was with Independence. He finished his pro playing days with McAllister in 1926.

Poolaw wasn't a bad Class C pitcher. He had a four-year record of 55-43 from 1921-45, winning 20 in 1924.

Poking around the internet, it appears Poolaw may have gone into some sort of religious work and his name is found associated with a Kiowa-English Christian song book. He died in 1969.

The other single-player photo in the group is of Chickasha catcher-manager Lester Hayes, identified as "Drap" on the picture. The vintage automobiles parked behind the grandstand give the photo a great period look.

Hayes had a 12-year minor league career as player and/or manager between 1911-30. He'd gotten his start in pro ball in my neck of the woods, at Green Bay and Appleton in the Wisconsin-Illinois League. He was with the Chicks in 1920-21.

The only man on the 1920 Chicks with major league experience is one of the three outfielders photographed together, Ned Pettigrew . . . he'd had two games with Buffalo in the Federal League in 1914.

He played 16 seasons (1905-21) in Class A-D leagues all over the West, then managed three more years (1922-23, 1937).

In this photo he's shown with Vic Ruedy, who led the 1920 Chicks with a .287 batting average. Ruedy was a 10-year minor league veteran who played in the lower minors all over the country between Twin Falls, Idaho and Manchester, N.H. between 1920-29.

The third outfielder is identified in the photo as Eddie Neusal. The minor league data base shows only a "Musel" on the 1920 Chicks roster, and that being his only O.B. engagement. They also have a separate listing for a "Neusal" playing with Jacksonville in 1917. I'm going to guess the unknown photographer got it right.

The fourth photo is a group shot of Chicks pitchers. According to the identification on back they are (presumably left to right) Lefty Lewis, Dan Payne, Lou Kraft and Lefty Miller. Given the common nature of the pitchers' surnames, and the paucity of records for teams in the low minors in the early 1920s, it's not possible to trace the careers of the Chickasha pitchers. I can't even tell if Lefty Miller is the "E. Miller" or "Fred Miller" who were both pitchers on the 1920 team.

Great old professional baseball photos like these have always appealed to both the minor league fan and baseball researcher in me. Perhaps you enjoyed them, as well.

Now that I've gotten these pictures into "print," I'm offering the original photos now on eBay. Search the auction listings under 1920 Chickasha.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

1969-style Parilli custom gives him a Jets card

Back on Aug. 11, I presented my 1955 Topps-style All-American college football card of Kentucly Wildcats legend Vito "Babe" Parilli.

At that time I discussed his career, his football card legacy and why I decided to create a couple of Parilli custom cards. You can scroll down to that blog posting to get the background.

That really doesn't leave me with much that needs to be said about my 1969 Topps-style Parilli custom, so I'll just let the pictures speak for themselves.

You can purchase this card. You can obtain a copy of this custom card for $12.50, postpaid. E-mail me at for ordering details. Illustrated lists of all available custom baseball and football cards can be found on my blog post of July 17.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Bad News Bees, Part 3c, Bill Rumler

(Continued from yesterday)

Judgement is rendered
            In the closing days of September, a special meeting of the Pacific Coast League owners was convened to pass judgment on league president William McCarthy’s suspension of Bill Rumler. Unfortunately for Rumler, just prior to that meeting, news of the Black Sox scandal in Chicago became public. Rumler, who had appeared at the meeting in his own defense, along with Bees’ team president Bill Lane and the entire board of directors of the Salt Lake club, said, “That Chicago scandal makes it all the tougher for me.”
            By a seven-to-one vote – Lane naturally the lone dissenting ballot – the league owners voted to sustain McCarthy’s suspension of Rumler.
            Almost forgotten in the wake of the scandal was the close of the 1920 Coast League season. With two-thirds of its outfield and much of its hitting suspended, Salt Lake fell from first place in late August into the second division when the season ended, in fifth place, 9-/2 games behind the pennant winner – Vernon.
            In late October, Los Angeles County convened a grand jury to investigate the allegations of gambling and game-throwing. A parade of ballplayers and sporting men made their way through the star chamber proceedings. When it came Rumler’s turn in the barrel, he was quizzed sharply on the matter of his safety bet with Borton. The grand jury was unable to find any evidence that the money Rumler received from Borton was anything else.
            Testimony raised in the grand jury’s investigation also appeared to satisfactorily explain the absence of Rumler from the Salt Lake line-up in the final days of that crucial series in Vernon in 1919. According to “Dr. Spencer, a local bone-setter who had treated many ballplayers,” Rumler injured his right hand sliding into third base. “He said he did not want to stay out of the game because he was battling (Sam) Crawford for the hitting leadership of the Coast League,” the doctor testified. “I found the ligaments so badly injured that he could not throw a ball or grip a bat. Not only would he have been a detriment to his own club if he had played ball,” the doctor opined, “but he also would have taken chances on cutting short his baseball career.” The physician produced records to affirm he had been treating Rumler for his injury on the days he had sat out against Vernon.
            Despite the inability to prove any culpability on Rumler’s part, he was indicted by the grand jury in December, along with Borton, teammates Harl Maggert and Gene Dale, and Seattle gambler Nate Raymond.
            In mid-month, the P.C.L. owners meeting in Sacramento turned into a riot when Bill Lane physically attacked Pres. McCarthy, claiming that McCarthy was trying to ruin the Salt Lake club and award the franchise to a location more beneficial to the rest of the league’s travel budget. McCarthy turned in a resignation, but was later coaxed back when his salary was doubled to $10,000 – something of an early Christmas present.
            Rumler and his indicted co-conspirators also received an early gift when, on Christmas Eve, California Judge Frank Willis dismissed the indictments on the grounds that there was no law in the Golden State prohibiting ballplayers from throwing ballgames, or gamblers from inducing them to do so.
            According to The Sporting News, that gift may have been a white elephant in Rumler’s case. The paper said, “The lawyers certainly messed it up for Bill Rumler in the Los Angeles court proceedings by having the indictment against Rumler dismissed. Bill was insisting loudly upon a trial, so that he might clear himself before a jury. Now that chance is denied him and there’s small chance of him convincing any baseball jury that he’s an ‘innocent boy,’ particularly after a grand jury found evidence enough to indict, even if there was no law to cover such an offense as charged.”
            The paper added, “The Salt Lake club had set great store by a trial in which Bill Rumler might be cleared. Confident it could not be proven the payment by Borton to Rumler was a bribe, the Salt Lake club then planned to demand reinstatement of Rumler. Now that the case must be settled entirely as a baseball affair outside the courts, the Salt Lake contention may not have so much technical merit to stand on.”
            McCarthy, in extracting a doubled salary from the owners, also demanded a vote of confidence for his continued stance that Rumler would not be allowed to return to the Coast League.
            Given the tenor of the times, Rumler’s suspension from the P.C.L. meant no other circuit in Organized Baseball would accept him. Then, as now, however, O.B. was not the only game in town. There were plenty of places a professional ballplayer could ply his trade, often at wages competitive with all but the highest minor leagues.
            Thus Bill Rumler found himself in Minot, North Dakota, for the 1921 season. A team photo of the Minot squad, labeled “North Dakota Champions 1921” has the name “Moore” under Rumler’s picture. Family members assume he was playing under a pseudonym. In the off-season, Rumler accepted a job from an old Army buddy, beginning his law enforcement career as a desk sergeant in Minot.
            In November of 1921, the Salt Lake club hired attorneys in an attempt to get newly named Commissioner of Baseball Kenesaw M. Landis to review Rumler’s situation as a preliminary to another threatened lawsuit. Nothing came of the attempt. It is probably fortunate for Rumler that Landis did not too closely scrutinize Rumler’s case or he would have almost surely made the five-year suspension permanent, given his handling of similar cases during his tenure.
            For 1922, Ruler moved on to Hibbing, Minn., in the Mesaba Range League, another independent pro circuit. Besides his play for the city’s team, Rumler’s contract paid him $150 a month to work for the township.
            The following year Rumler joined the Canton, Ohio, team in the outlaw Mid-West League. At that time the league was the fastest semi-pro circuit in the central U.S., stretching across the industrialized Great Lakes area from southeastern Wisconsin to Ohio. In the early 1920s the leagued proved a haven for players who had been black-balled by the major leagues, including on its rosters several of the Black Sox. Rumler’s 1924 contract with Canton survives in a family scrapbook, providing for payment at the rate of $650 a month.
            There is nothing found in the family archives or in the records of Organized Baseball detailing Rumler’s whereabouts between 1924 and the end of 1928. The five-year suspension handed down by McCarthy should have expired at the close of the 1925 season. McCarthy himself had been replaced as P.C.L. president in a bitter 1923 dispute among the owners. Whether Rumler applied for reinstatement in 1925 is unknown. It’s possible Rumler pursued his police career during this period. A newspaper account in the 1960s said Rumler had been a member of the “suicide squad” of the Portland, Ore., P.D., but provides no dates.
            Inquiries concerning reinstatement must have been made at some point thereafter, however, for the first report of Rumler’s return to O.B. indicated he had severed his ties with the outlaw leagues at least prior to the 1927 season. In an effort to further punish those whom it had banned, it was the policy of the major leagues and the National Association (the minor leagues’ governing body) in that era to refuse admission to an O.B. roster to any player who had played with or against banned ballplayers, even in exhibition contests.
            In December of 1928 it was reported that Bill Rumler had been reinstated to good standing with O.B. during the minor leagues’ winter meetings at Toronto, by action of the Board of Arbitration. Rumler’s contract reverted to Hollywood, where Bill Lane had moved the Salt Lake team in 1926.
In 1929 Ruler returned to the
Pacific Coast League and to
Zee-Nuts' baseball cards with
the Hollywood Stars. 
   Rumler’s return to the Coast League in 1929 could have inspired “The Natural.” At the age of 38 he helped lead the Stars to the pennant. He batted .386, the third-highest mark in the league and the highest batting average that would ever be attained by a Hollywood player. He had a career-high 26 home runs and his .990 fielding average was the best in the P.C.L. for an outfielder in more than 55 games.
            Hollywood won the PC.L. pennant in 1929, though the team was third overall in the won-loss columns. The Mission Reds had a 4-1/2- game lead as the season neared the halfway point, and were pulling away from the pack. To maintain interest in the remainder of the season, the league’s owners voted to split the season. Hollywood won the second half by one game over Mission and the two teams met in a best-of-seven playoff series that the Stars won 4-2. In the fourth game of that series, Rumler was hit in the head with a pitched ball and had to be carried from the field to a hospital. He was able to return for the final game, going 1-for-1 with an RBI to help Hollywood claim the pennant.
            Besides the injury, Rumler suffered a major financial setback in 1929. While on the field one day, thieves removed $485 from his clothes in the locker room. As a token of their appreciation, owner Bill Lane and Rumler’s teammates took up a collection and made up for the loss. Rumler put that money, and his season’s savings into the local bank following the season’s close – and the bank failed in the Depression.
            The 1930 pre-season looked like it would be another banner year for Rumler. In a two-game series with the Chicago Cubs, the final tune-up prior to the opening bell, Rumler went 9-for-10 at the plate.
            As the team traveled to Oakland for the season opener Rumler suffered a freak accident that delayed his own season debut by more than a week. Asleep in a Pullman on that trip, Rumler apparently had a nightmare – at least that’s the way the press reported the accident – and crashed his leg through the train window, badly lacerating his foot.
            Rumler recovered and was having another big year, batting .353 with 14 home runs as the end of August approached. Again, injury intervened.
            The 1930 season was the first in which large numbers of minor league teams experimented with night baseball. Naturally, the lighting left a lot to be desired. In his first game at Los Angeles under the lights, on Aug. 27, Rumler broke his ankle when he misjudged a slide and jammed it into the base. He missed the remainder of the season, another pennant-winner for Hollywood.
            Whether it was the injuries or his age that slowed him, Rumler passed out of fast company with the end of the 1930 season.
            At age 40 in 1931, he opened the season as left fielder and clean-up hitter for Denver, in the Western League. Official statistics credit him with 16 games, though his name appears in only 14 box scores. (My go-to source for baseball stats,, does not show Rumler playing with Denver in 1931. The site does, however, has a separate entry for a Rumler, first name unknown, playing there. Those stats should, in fact, be included with Bill Rumler’s.)
            Rumler was the Bears’ regular left fielder from the May 1 opener through May 18, but the team got off to a dreadful start. They lost eight of their first nine games by a
Rumler was included in
the 1931Denver Bears
team photo.
combined score of 73-46. Although they won the next three games, Rumler was benched while the team piled up a couple more wins. With Rumler back in the outfield, Denver immediately dropped its next pair of games by scores of 13-3 and 11-5, and Rumler was released, having hit just .236.
            Following his release from Denver, Rumler once again went on the road, as manager of a traveling team known as the Canadian Clowns. The team, carrying its own portable lighting system, introduced many a small town to night baseball, playing local nines, Negro aggregations and whomever else could draw a crowd.
For 1932, Rumler came home to Nebraska, as manager of the Lincoln Links of the Nebraska State League, a Class D circuit.
            Lincoln’s opening day festivities on May 20 found the stands packed with Milford residents while the ton band played on the sidelines. Nebraska’s governor threw out the first ball, which was caught by Lincoln’s mayor. The fans were treated to a great inaugural contest. The McCook Generals scored three runs in the top of the ninth to tie the game at 10-all.
            Lincoln opened the home half of the 10th inning with a triple, then the McCook manager ordered the next two batters intentionally walked. After a strikeout, McCook’s pitcher walked in the winning run. Rumler’s on-field contribution to the win was a trio of doubles in five at-bats.
            That debut victory was the highlight of Rumler’ season, however, as his team stumbled out of the starting gate. In one early-June game Rumler’s team committed 10 errors, allowing nine runs—all unearned—in a 9-1 loss.
            On June 22, the Links visited McCook for a double-header. The Generals were ahead 4-2 in the opening game when Rumler slugged the umpire, precipitating a riot that was quelled only when local police led Rumler off the field. That game was declared a forfeit to McCook. In the second half of the bargain bill, McCook also won, 8-2. That game, too, was marred when a pair of Lincoln players attacked the same umpire whom Rumler had bloodied.
            “I really got into it with him,“ Rumler said later. “He poked his nose in my face, so I lowered the boom on him—right on the nose.”
            With a 12-26 record at the time, Lincoln was in fifth place in the six-team league, 15 games out of first. League president Bob Russell fined Rumler $25 ad suspended him indefinitely for his assault on the umpire. Lincoln’s ownership used the occasion to replace Rumler as manager. Despite his .340 batting average over 17 games, Rumler was also released as the team’s right fielder. It was the end of his career in Organized Baseball.
            For the remainder of the 1932 season, Ruler managed the Maryville, Kan., amateur baseball team.
            Details of Rumler life between 1932 and World War II are unchronicled. He likely was involved in some combination of working the family farm and law enforcement around Milford.
During the war Rumler worked as chief of guards (and manager
of the baseball team) at a Nebraska ordnane factory. He's
shown here kneeling at left in the middle row.
            During the war, Rumler served as chief of guards at the Cornhusker Ordnance Depot in Grand Island, Neb., where he played on the plant’s baseball and basketball teams. In 1943 he was made lieutenant of the guards working on the Al-Can Highway at Skagway, Alaska.
            Rumler returned to Milford after the war and became the town’s chief of police. He also served some time as chief of the village’s fire department, was a 10-year member of the county draft board, and, upon his retirement from law enforcement in 1964 sometime after suffering a heart attack, became justice of the peace for the Milford police court.
            Local lore credits Rumler with being a cop who was firmly rooted in the tradition of the tough-but-fair city marshal of the century past. He is said to have had no tolerance for juvenile delinquents or challenges to his authority.
            But Rumler also cared enough for the local youth to coach the town’s American Legion basketball team all the way to the state finals one year. Rumler retired from public service in 1964, hoping to spend his remaining years hunting and fishing. On May 26, 1966, he died in Milford at the age of 75. He is buried in the town’s Blue Mound Cemetery.

This undated portrait shows
Bill Rumler as remembered
by family and friends in
Milford, Neb.
            (Editor’s note: This article was originally published in Sport Collectors Digest, Sept. 17, 1993 . . .  more than 20 years ago. It was written following a visit I made to Milford, where a  grand-niece of Bill Rumler’s, Terry Torrez, maintained Rumler’s last home as well as the family’s scrapbook and other remnants of Rumler’s life and baseball career. In an upstairs bedroom, the walls are hung with framed photos of some of the teams on which Rumler played or managed. A chair in the corner has on its rails the hats he wore as a World War II security guard and as the town’s chief of police.

            One of the few remaining family members who knew Rumler prior to his death, Ms. Torrez said that prior to being contacted about this article, the family had few details about the scandal in which Bill Rumler had been involved. It had not been a topic of conversation among the relatives. A special thanks to Ms. Torrez for her sharing of the archival material for this presentation.
             The concluding parts of the story of the Bad News Bees will be presented on this blog about this time in September, detailing the role of Babe Borton, the "fixer.")

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Bad News Bees, Part 3b, Bill Rumler

(Continued from yesterday)
In this team photo of the 1919 Salt Lake City Bees,
Bill Rumler is shown reclining in front.
In February of 1919, Salt Lake City’s new manager, Eddie Herr, went back East on a player purchasing trip and acquired former St. Louis Browns player Bill Rumler. The manager was quoted by the local press as saying, “Rumler can catch, play the outfield or first base, and has the reputation of being another Babe Ruth for hitting them a mile. Since the Brown have owned Rumler they have used him off and on and also farmed him to various minor clubs, but never has he fallen down in his wonderful hitting. The only thing that stands in the way of making Rumler a valuable man for the Bees is the fact that he broke a leg while playing with an Army camp team last fall. We will have to wait and see,” Herr concluded.
            Rumler’s leg couldn’t have bothered him too much in 1919 for he led the Pacific Coast League with a .362 batting average, a couple of points ahead of future Hall of Famer Wahoo Sam Crawford. Rumler appeared in 88% of the team’s 171-game schedule. His 42 doubles were a league leading mark, and he hit 17 each of triples and home runs. The three-baggers were third-best in the circuit, while the home runs were second only to teammate Earl Sheely’s 28.
            While the box scores can be viewed with an eye towards supporting the argument that several of Rumler’s teammates actively worked to throw the 1919 Pacific Coast League pennant to Vernon, that data does not support the same conclusion in Rumler’s case.
Rumler appeared on Zee-Nut candy
cards as a Salt Lake City
Bee in 1919-20.
            True, in the first meeting of the teams, April 8-12 in Utah, Rumler hit only .200. However, it is unlikely the pennant plot had been hatched at that stage of the season. It is even unlikely that when Salt Lake City visited Vernon for a series beginning July 1, that the fix was in. In that eight-game series, the Bees won five and tied one. In those games Rumler hit .433, going 13-for-30 with a trio of doubles.
            There is no doubt, however, that by the time Vernon and Salt Lake met for a home-and-home series from Sept. 16-28, the plan to give the pennant to Vernon had been implemented. At the start of that series, Vernon was tied with Los Angeles for first, and Salt Lake City was a distant third, 10 games out.
            Vernon won nine of the 13 games in that stretch, but since L.A. was feasting on the weaker teams up north, the Tigers ended the rigged series a game-and-a-half back. Salt Lake City was 13-1/2 out.
            In that crucial series, Rumler hit .375 against Vernon, including two home runs and a double. Though he fielded among the bottom half of P.C.L. outfielders in 1919, Rumler played errorless ball against the Tigers in late September. In the only game in which he batted more than once and failed to get a hit, S.L.C. won. Rumler was apparently injured in the game of Sept. 25, batting only once that day, then sitting out the final three games of the series. It would later be alleged that if Rumler was taking money to throw games, his absence from the line-up was artificially induced. Vernon “fixer” Babe Borton, it was later revealed, offered other league players money to sit out in games against the Tigers.
            It is unlikely that during the September series with Vernon, Rumler committed the “crime” that caused his suspension a year later. According to testimony by both Rumler and his old teammate Borton, the $250 that Rumler received from the Babe in 1920 was the proceeds from a “safety bet” between the pair.
            Technically, a safety bet constitutes betting against your own team; it was common practice throughout baseball in that era. By pairing up with a member of another pennant-contending team, players making a safety bet could insure at least a piece of the championship money. Essentially, the safety bet provided that if Salt Lake had won the pennant, Rumler would have paid $250 to Borton. In Vernon copped the gonfalon, Borton would owe $250 to Rumler.
            Since Vernon was some 10 games ahead of the Bees when the teams met in September, it’s not reasonable to assume Borton would have taken such a bet at that time. More likely, the bet’s genesis was in the first series between the teams, back in early April, although later testimony indicated the wager was made during the teams’ July meeting.
            As mentioned, safety bets were common in baseball at that time. Even the World Series was not immune from a similar practice. Players in the Fall Classic often paired off with members of the opposing team to pool a winner’s share and a loser’s share and split it down the middle regardless of which team won the championship. Such a practice today would result in a lifetime ban, but in 1919, baseball’s ruling bodies winked at the practice until their noses were rubbed in it by the Rumler case.
            After Salt Lake City reportedly spurned a three-player package from the Browns who were looking to get Rumler back, he opened his second season in the P.C.L. in 1920 and picked up where he left off in 1919.
            Because the statistics compiled by Rumler and others indicted in the 1919 pennant fix were expunged from the official records of the 1920 season, a reconstruction had to be attempted, working from box scores. According to those figures, Rumler hit .355 (some sources say .348) over 128 games, with 23 home runs. Once again, Earl Sheely led the league in home runs, with 33, and also paced the hitters with a .371 mark. Rumler’s numbers put him in second place behind Sheely in home runs and third, behind Sheely and alleged Bees’ co-conspirator Harl Maggert’s .370, in batting average.

Pennant scandal comes to light
            The pennant scandal began to unravel in early August of 1920. On Aug. 14 Rumler played his final game for the Bees, going out with a bang by batting 2-for-2 with a home run. He did not play in the doubleheader on Aug. 15, and the 16th was an off day. It was really an off day for Rumler, because on that date he was suspended indefinitely by league president William McCarthy. 
            McCarthy’s action followed receipt of an affidavit from Rumler admitting to betting on Vernon during the previous season. Rumler’s teammate, catcher C.A. Blyer, supported Rumler’s statement, indicating he had knowledge of the safety bet. McCarthy was quoted, “If players are permitted to indulge in such practices it must be apparent that they can only lead to serious consequences.”
            Rumler’s team attempted to whitewash his involvement in the scandal. On Aug. 23 they were in first place, a game ahead of Vernon. Having already lost outfielder Harl Maggert to the gambling probe, the Bees could not afford to lose Rumler’s bat.
            In early September the Salt Lake team stepped up its efforts to get Rumler back in the line-up. Team president Bill Lane threatened to sue P.C.L. prexy McCarthy to accomplish that goal.
            The Sporting News’ San Francisco columnist, who wrote under the pen name “Seal Rock,” commented at length on the controversy in a column headlined “Salt Lake would sacrifice honor to win bit of bunting”.
            “Lane’s threat to sue for reinstatement of Rumler gives the baseball public a different opinion of the sportsmanship of the president of the Salt Lake club,” Rock said. “It raises the question of which Salt Lake holds in highest esteem – the honesty of baseball or the winning of a scrap of cloth called a pennant. Salt Lake, without Rumler in the line-up has slid from the top, while Vernon, with a bunch of players alleged by Borton to be more or less dishonest, has taken a good lead. Looks like a smirch on the flag if either of the two teams wins it.”

            Rock continued, “Salt Lake’s plan was to take advantage of a technicality in the league’s constitution to get President McCarthy in a hole and force reinstatement of its player. Its announced intention was to go into the United States court, show McCarthy could not inflict suspension for more than ten days without authorization of the league board of directors, and thus show him up as having exceeded his authority in the Rumler case.”
            The column continued by detailing the bet between Borton and Rumler. Rock editorialized, “This novel explanation was accepted by the Salt Lake club and Rumler ‘exonerated,’ an action that would have been excruciatingly funny had it not been such a serious case. And now it seems Salt Lake still ‘believes’ in Rumler. The newspapers there refer to his ‘innocent bet’ and are ribbing Lane up to go to court. The rest of the league and all the baseball fans who want baseball cleaned up are a bit surprised, to say the least, for nobody outside of Salt Lake seems to have any doubts as to how Rumler should stand in baseball,” Rock concluded.
             McCarthy responded to Lane challenge by moving Rumler’s suspension from the indefinite class to definite and setting the sentence at five years. He also said that as long as he was president of the league, Bill Rumler would never play in it. That was a thinly veiled threat that he would quit his post if any court found in favor of Rumler’s reinstatement.
            Rumler’s response was to threaten suit against the P.C.L. for $50,000 damages for his five-year banishment. McCarthy replied, “If Rumler can get $50,000 from the Coast League, then the men who have their money invested in baseball out this way had just as well close up their parks. If Rumler can get damages, every other player who has been barred will bring suit. So far as I am concerned, the Rumler case is closed. My opinion is that this suit is being brought to influence the directors of the league to reinstate Rumler. I suspended Rumler because I thought it was for the best interests of the Coast League, and nothing has happened since then to make me change my mind.”
            Seal Rock once again got onto the editorial soapbox, “Bill (McCarthy) does not say so, but it is a safe guess that if the directors go over his head in the Rumler case, they can look for a new president.”
Local press defends Rumler
            Salt Lake’s baseball writers were not silent on the subject. On Sept. 26, W.D. Bratz penned a column which ran under the headline, “Salt Lake refutes idea that it condones baseball crooks,” and was sub-headed, “Fans of Utah city have taken stand in Rumler case because they have honest conviction accused player is not morally guilty.”
            Bratz wrote, “During 20 or more years as a sporting editor, I permitted myself to become accustomed to the fixed wrestling matches, crooked horse and foot races and the laydowns in the pugilistic game, but I always managed to console myself (perhaps kid myself) with the belief that there is one national sport that is on the level – organized baseball.
Rumler's photo on the 1920
Zee-Nut card has to be one of
the most unflattering in baseball
card history.
            “No, I don’t believe that the entire game is crooked just because we have unearthed a bunch of crooks in this league. But believe it or not, you who have never been confronted with such a scandal as we have been forced to swallow, it surely knocks one’s pins from under him when he suddenly discovers that members of the ball club which he has been boosting have been selling their honor and the club’s for a few paltry, sneaking, dirty dollars.
            “I am going to discuss, briefly, one phase of the scandal,” Bratz prefaced his coming defense of Rumler, “but before I do permit me to repeat that all of us, director and fans, do not value a pennant above the good name of baseball; all are and will be more than willing to part with the rest of our club if there be any more crooks on it. In other words, we are as anxious as anyone connected with the great game that the league should and must be cleansed of the smirch which has been thrust upon it. We ask, therefore, that no one misjudge us when we state our case in the matter of William Rumler.
            “Until a few days ago when all facts were laid before us, I had disagreed with William Lane and the local directors in the Rumler controversy. I have felt as most outsiders do, that Rumler was equally as guilty as Maggert or, at any rate, that he had indiscreetly, perhaps, placed himself in equally as bad a position.
            “I have changed my mind about Rumler’s connection with the scandal,” Bratz explained. “I now believe that Rumler did nothing other than what other players have done many times. I am going to believe that at least until someone produces more damaging evidence against him than has been unearthed thus far. But for the fact that Rumler ‘collected’ at a time when the ‘slush fund’ was being passed around by Babe Borton and his Vernon cohorts, his case probably would have been settled and forgotten.
            “Here is the Rumler case as I see it, and no one, not even Babe Borton, has denied that these are not the facts: A year ago last July, while the Bees were playing at Vernon, so Rumler asserts, Babe Borton of Vernon came to him with this proposition: ‘It begins to look as if either one of us (Salt Lake or Vernon) might cop this year’s pennant and the ten thousand dollars which the boosters of the two clubs have hung up. Let’s arrange a trade whereby both of us can get a little cut in on the melon; if Vernon wins, I’ll owe you $250 and if Salt Lake wins, you pay $250.’
            “This, according to Rumler, was the agreement and, mind you, Babe Borton, nor anyone else has denied that these were not the only stipulations connected with the agreement.”
Rumler states his case
            Bratz then quoted Rumler as saying, “Dozens of such trades are made every year in the big leagues, and I’ll wager there are many of them ending on the two big league championships right now. I’ll dare any one to produce any evidence that I have ever laid down on any club I have ever drawn money from, or that I ever wagered a cent against my club. I did merely what hundreds of other honorable ball players have done and, what is more, I made no secret of it. Almost every member of the Salt Lake team last year knew of my ‘trade’ with Borton. I am innocent of any wrong doing. If I had been guilty don’t think for a minute I wouldn’t have had the nerve to face the people of Salt Lake as I am doing now. I would have packed my tools and ducked. As it is, I am going to prove my innocence.”
       Bratz followed with details of his own investigation into Rumler’s assertations. “Since Rumler’s declaration that big leaguers are in the habit of making ‘trades; just such as he and Borton are supposed to have made, I have talked with a number of ex-big-leaguers and learned that such is the case. Several of them made no bones about saying that they are common. In fact there are two former big leaguers of this circuit today who admit having had a similar ‘trade’ in one of the majors last season.
            “If these are the facts, Rumler can certainly not be charged with betting against his own club or with throwing ball games. Rumler and Borton made the bargain in July, long before the race was settled, and he received his pay in November. The fact that he could not collect from Borton until November, when the ‘slush fund’ was being passed to Maggert and probably others, is the only feature that makes things look bad for Bill. Rumler’s contention, however, is that Borton could not have been expected to make good until after the post-season series with St. Paul.”

(Continued tomorrow, “The owners’ verdict”)